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Coronavirus (COVID-19) - previous updates for professionals

This page provides a record of the previous guidance we have issued to professionals relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please note that all current current guidance can be found on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for professionals page

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 2 November 2020: statement on fertility treatment services

On Saturday 31 October the Prime Minister announced a second lockdown in England beginning, subject to Parliamentary approval, on Thursday 5 November. This follows earlier decisions by the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to introduce a variety of similar measures. 

Fertility patients are understandably anxious at this time and in the light of these developments we are issuing a further statement to set out our position on fertility treatment across the UK and the expectations we have of clinics.

At this current time we have no plans to implement a national closure of fertility clinics. HFEA licensed clinics have incorporated safe ways of working for patients and clinic staff during the ongoing pandemic as set out in their Treatment Commencement Strategy in May 2020. 

At this time, none of the governments across the UK are suggesting that patients should postpone treatment – for example the updated guidance coming into force on Thursday in England includes permission to be outside your home “for any medical concerns, reasons, appointments and emergencies.”

However, with Covid19 cases increasing and hospital admission and death rates predicted to be significantly higher than in the first wave, we expect clinics to promptly review their policies and procedures to ensure renewed detailed action plans are integrated into clinical care immediately.

We expect all clinics to demonstrate how their service can be safely maintained and how they can minimise any possible further impact on the wider NHS, for example by doing all they can to minimise referrals to emergency care. Clinics should consider implementing a freeze all strategy for patients at higher risk of referral and assess patients to identify those at greater risk of requiring NHS care.

We will closely monitor the situation and request that any referrals made by licensed clinics to an NHS facility other than their own clinic be reported through the HFEA incident reporting system. We expect clinics to continue to follow professional and local guidance and let us know immediately if there is a local decision to suspend the services they provide.

Looking ahead, the HFEA will continue to review any new guidance produced by the Government and devolved administrations, the NHS and Professional Societies and make further statements as necessary.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 13 October 2020: HFEA statement on fertility treatment services

In light of the worrying increase in Covid-19 cases and changes to local lockdown, the HFEA wants to provide some reassurance about fertility treatment.

The changes that clinics put in place from May 2020 onwards, to comply with professional guidelines and keep patients safe, mean that we hope a new national closure of fertility clinics should not be necessary.

All HFEA licensed clinics had to set out a Treatment Commencement Strategy in May 2020 showing how they could provide a safe service for their staff and patients during the pandemic.  These strategies are kept under regular review by clinics and our inspectors, and all clinics should follow the latest guidance from the UK professional bodies - the British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists.

As the pandemic continues, we recognise that individual clinics may face circumstances where they will have to consider whether they can continue to maintain a safe service for a period of time – for example if they have a high level of staff sickness or their local hospital trust decides to restrict some patient services.

We expect clinics to follow professional and local guidance and to review and adapt their treatment strategy to ensure fertility treatment can continue to be provided safely.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) update 28 September 2020: Restarting inspections

Our plan for resuming inspections was considered by the Authority in August 2020, and it was agreed that inspections would restart from November 2020.

Our strategy for resuming inspections considers the HFEA statutory duties, Government, and public health advice, as well as our commitment to keep patients, clinic staff and HFEA inspectors safe. In addition to using extra precautionary measures to mitigate risks of COVID-19 infection (such as the use of PPE and social distancing), we have also reviewed the inspection methodology and have adopted a new approach which will involve inspectors completing a desk-based assessment (DBA) prior to the visit.

If you have any questions about the new approach to inspections, please contact your inspector.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 11May 2020: HFEA licensed clinics can apply to reopen from today, 11 May 2020

General Direction GD0014 (version 2) requires that before resuming licensed treatment clinics must have a written COVID-19 Treatment Commencement Strategy. Clinics should keep their Treatment Commencement Strategy under regular review to ensure that it reflects the latest guidance.

We also require clinics to complete the HFEA COVID-19 Treatment Commencement self-assessment tool before commencing treatment. Clinics cannot resume treatment until they have received our approval.  Any clinic that does so may face regulatory action.  We aim to complete our approval process within five working days of receiving the completed clinic self-assessment.

We will regularly review GD0014 to see if it is continuing to achieve its aim of enabling as many patients as possible to have safe treatment through these difficult times with the continuing pandemic.

As clinics receive approval to reopen, we will publish this information in a list on our website to make patients aware.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 01 May 2020: Restarting treatment

At our Authority meeting yesterday, it was agreed that it is now possible to see a route to how treatment could be offered safely, provided clinics were compliant with guidance from the UK and devolved governments, professional bodies and the HFEA.

The Authority decided that subject to the HFEA working with clinics, through an assessment process, on how a safe service can be delivered for patients and clinic staff, fertility clinics will be able to apply to reopen in the week commencing 11 May 2020 once revised General Directions have been issued. We expect that subject to satisfactory approval from the HFEA, patient treatment could begin shortly after.

The Authority agreed that the framework governing treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would be set out in a revised General Direction 0014

The revised GD0014 will require that before resuming licensed treatment a centre must develop a written COVID-19 Treatment Commencement Strategy. The Treatment Commencement Strategy must:

  • record the measures that the centre will be taking to comply with current guidance on safe and effective treatment and the mitigating actions taken in relation to each risk;
  • record the risk assessments undertaken by the centre to identify risks arising from the provision of treatment and the mitigating actions in relation to each risk;
  • record the practical and logistical measures the centre will be taking to deliver treatment safely and in a manner that mitigates the risks arising from, or associated with, Covid-19 for both patients and staff;
  • record all new or revised standard operating procedures or protocols which have been developed to enable treatment to resume safely whilst maintaining compliance with the Government’s current requirements relating to freedom of movement and social distancing.

In drawing up a Treatment Commencement Strategy we will expect centres to refer to professional and UK and devolved governments guidance. As we are awaiting revised guidance from the BFS/ARCS the Authority agreed that any centre that wishes to consider their readiness to resume treatment in the short term should use the relevant sections of the guidance published by ESHRE on 23 April 2020 until UK guidance is available.

The revised GD0014 will require centres to complete the HFEA COVID-19 Treatment Commencement self-assessment before commencing treatment.  This self-assessment tool is intended to assess whether centres’ Treatment Commencement Strategies are robust and will measure compliance against current guidance. The self-assessment tool is in draft at the moment and we intend to trial it with a few centres over the next few days to test its effectiveness. The finalised tool will be available from the clinic’s HFEA inspector once the revised GD0014 is issued.

The HFEA has statutory powers to require clinics to record and report specified information and the failure to provide this information would allow us to move to enforcement sanctions. These powers are at the centre of the revised GD0014.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 28 April 2020: Restarting treatment

We are actively considering how best we can vary or revoke GD0014 to enable treatment to resume. The Authority met last Tuesday this to consider the criteria against which any decision to resume fertility treatment should be made.

The Authority agreed that at that point, four criteria are particularly critical in any such decision:

  • that Government restrictions on social contact and travel are lifted or eased
  • that restarting fertility treatment would not have a negative impact on the NHS
  • that there was no evidence that Covid-19 impacted on the health of pregnant women or their babies
  • that fertility clinics are able to provide a safe service.

Since the last meeting, two positive developments have emerged:

  1. The publication of revised professional guidelines from ESHRE on 23 April and the ASRM on 24 April, make helpful recommendations as to how fertility services might be reconfigured to meet the variety of safety concerns that arise because of Covid-19. We are awaiting publication of the BFS/ARCS revised guidance and recommendations.
  2. On 27 April, the Health Secretary announced that he planned to restart some NHS services in England, beginning with the ‘most urgent’ services, such as cancer.

In the light of these developments we will hold an extraordinary Board meeting later this week to review the current intelligence against the criteria the Board set for General Direction 0014 to be varied or lifted.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 25 April 2020: Storage limit extended

In recognition of the potential impact that the COVID-19 pandemic may have on those wishing to start a family, the Government has today confirmed that the current 10-year storage limit for embryos and gametes will be extended by two years.

Our Chair, Sally Cheshire, said:

“We welcome today’s announcement from the DHSC. We have been working together to ensure those patients who have stored sperm, eggs or embryos that are reaching the 10-year storage limit are not penalised by the current suspension of fertility treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know this is a difficult and distressing time for all patients, so this decision brings good news for those who are reaching the 10-year storage limit. It provides them with some much-needed reassurance and most importantly gives more time to try for their much longed for family.”

We will be issuing new guidance to fertility clinics in the UK to support them in implementing the new storage limit extension.

Read the full statement from the Department of Health and Social Care here

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 24 April 2020: Restarting treatment

We are actively considering how best we can vary or revoke GD0014 to enable treatment to resume. The Authority met on Tuesday this week to consider the criteria against which any decision to resume fertility treatment should be made.

The Authority agreed that at this point in time, four criteria are particularly critical in any such decision:

  • that Government restrictions on social contact and travel are lifted or eased
  • that restarting fertility treatment would not have a negative impact on the NHS
  • that there was no evidence that Covid-19 impacted on the health of pregnant women or their babies
  • that fertility clinics are able to provide a safe service.

We now need to resolve the indicators or milestones that we shall use to assess progress against each criterion. We will be speaking to the UK Government and the devolved Governments, the NHS leadership, the professional societies (BFS/ARCS, RCOG), and licensed fertility clinics.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind clinics of their continuing responsibilities to their current patients, who may wish to have advice and counselling at this stressful time.

Our aim is for a safe and orderly restart of the sector where as many patients as possible can resume treatment as soon as possible.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 22 April 2020: Restarting treatment

We understand what a difficult and emotional time this is for fertility patients with fertility treatment ceasing from 15 April 2020 in line with other NHS and private healthcare.

Our aim is to allow as many patients as possible to resume safe treatment as soon as possible. Our Board met yesterday to continue to discuss how we can make this happen and what criteria need to be satisfied before clinics can re-open.

Any decision to allow fertility clinics to re-open will consider the views of the UK professional fertility societies (BFS/ARCS) and the impact that resuming treatment would have on NHS services. We also need to be assured that clinics are able to provide a safe service to patients and a safe working environment for clinic staff.

We recognise the distress this closure is causing any patients awaiting fertility treatment and hope that those relying on NHS funding will be allowed to continue their treatment as they expected.

We want to reassure patients and clinics that we are actively working on an exit strategy to enable fertility treatment to resume when Government restrictions on social contact and travel are lifted. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 14 April 2020: General Direction 0014

In line with guidance from the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists, we’ve issued new General Directions which now require all clinics to have a COVID-19 treatment strategy and to have ceased treatment services by 15 April 2020 at latest.  

The Direction is in line with the professional guidelines and advice from the NHS that all non-urgent, elective surgery should stop by 15 April 2020.

Failure to follow the Direction will result in further regulatory action.

View the direction here: General Direction 0014.

Clarification on the requirements of HFEA Direction 0014

The BFS/ARCS guidance states that no new treatments should be started with immediate effect. This means that centres should not start stimulation for any IVF cycle. It also states:

  • Centres can complete treatment cycles where patients had started medications before GD0014 was issued, provided that any treatment is complete by 15 April 2020.
  • Centres can see patients who are currently in treatment for any essential appointments such as monitoring ultrasound scans, OHSS checks or early pregnancy monitoring.
  • The only patients that can be treated after 15 April 2020 are those that require non-elective fertility preservation as set out in 3(d) of GD0014. For the avoidance of doubt, fertility preservation refers to patients who are about to commence radiotherapy or chemotherapy in the face of cancer or are about to use chemotherapy for a serious systemic disease. The premature infertility test does not apply to women whose fertility is declining due to age or the onset of the menopause.
  • Centres are expected to risk assess all treatment offered and ensure that Government advice is adhered to.

The BFS/ARCS guidance states that ”centres are expected to keep in communication with patients for advice and reassurance”. We expect all centres to do this, which includes offering patients remote access to trained counsellors where necessary.

Key workers

Clinics staff who are engaged in the completion of non elective fertility preservation treatment, or who are providing a skeleton service are considered Key workers.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 09 April 2020: Restarting treatment

We understand this is a difficult time for patients and clinics with all fertility treatment being stopped from 15 April 2020. 

We will do all we can to lift this restriction as soon as possible but we cannot give a date when this will happen given the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

We are working on a strategy for addressing this and as a first step will be considering the criteria that will need to be satisfied before the direction can be lifted. Any decision will need to consider the views of the UK professional societies (BFS/ARCS), the impact that resuming treatment would have on NHS services, and general guidance from Government designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 on safe distancing and the movement of people.

Our aim is for the UK fertility sector to restart as soon as possible and we are keeping the situation under regular review.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 24 March 2020: Clarifications on guidance

This communication provides clarification for clinics on three issues about Coronavirus (COVID-19):

  1. Clarification on the requirements of HFEA Direction 0014 issued on 23 March 2020
  2. How the new Government guidance about staying at home and away from others applies to fertility patients and clinic staff
  3. Key workers

Clarification on the requirements of HFEA Direction 0014

The BFS/ARCS guidance states that no new treatments should be started with immediate effect. This means that centres should not start stimulation for any IVF cycle. It also states:

  • Centres can complete treatment cycles where patients had started medications before GD0014 was issued, provided that any treatment is complete by 15 April 2020.
  • Centres can see patients who are currently in treatment for any essential appointments such as monitoring ultrasound scans, OHSS checks or early pregnancy monitoring.
  • The only patients that can be treated after 15 April 2020 are those that require non-elective fertility preservation as set out in 3(d) of GD0014. For the avoidance of doubt, fertility preservation refers to patients who are about to commence radiotherapy or chemotherapy in the face of cancer or are about to use chemotherapy for a serious systemic disease. The premature infertility test does not apply to women whose fertility is declining due to age or the onset of the menopause.
  • Centres are expected to risk assess all treatment offered and ensure that Government advice is adhered to.

The BFS/ARCS guidance states that ”centres are expected to keep in communication with patients for advice and reassurance”. We expect all centres to do this, which includes offering patients remote access to trained counsellors where necessary.

Government guidance about staying at home and away from others

Following last night’s announcement from the Government about staying at home and away from others we want to provide some clarity about what this means for those fertility patients who are currently finishing treatment cycles, and for the clinic staff treating them.

The guidance issued by the Government on 23 March states “you should only leave home for one of four reasons”. This includes any medical need or travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

This means that patients can still travel to their clinic to finish a treatment cycle, and clinic staff can travel to the clinic to provide that treatment as this cannot be done from home.

As you are aware, even when doing these activities you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household. You should also avoid using public transport wherever possible.

Key workers

We have received confirmation from Public Health England that any healthcare staff engaged in the completion of current fertility treatment cycles are considered Key workers.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 23 March 2020: General Direction

In line with guidance from the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists, we’ve issued new General Directions which now require all clinics to have a COVID-19 treatment strategy, which must include ceasing treatment services by 15 April 2020 the latest.  

The Direction is in line with the professional guidelines and advice from the NHS that all non-urgent, elective surgery should stop by 15 April 2020.

Failure to follow the Direction will result in further regulatory action.

For more information, view General Direction 0014.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 18 March 2020: Updated statement for clinics

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, we are closely monitoring its impact on the UK fertility sector. Our advice to clinics remains to refer to UK professional guidance when making decisions about whether to offer treatment. Only professional guidelines, not the HFEA, can inform local medical decisions. 

The British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists updated their guidance on 18 March. This is designed to help UK fertility clinics decide how to prioritise and organise their services during the outbreak, whilst complying with their clinical, ethical, regulatory and social duties. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have also updated their guidance.

We expect clinics to follow the advice from the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists. The guidance calls on clinics in both the private sector and the NHS to consider their wider responsibility in any decision making, including the need to promote social distancing and the potential effects of their work on local NHS services which are likely to be stretched to an unprecedented extent.

The guidance assumes that as coronavirus spreads, clinics will stop fertility treatments over the coming weeks. This may be for several reasons: redeployment of staff, reduced anaesthetist cover, or staff being unable to work due to self-isolation or illness. The guidance also carries a call to cease treatments to minimise the spread of the virus and reduce the impact on the NHS due to the common complications of IVF such as OHSS.

We will be writing to all clinics to seek assurances that they intend to follow this guidance and to remind the Person Responsible of their duty to provide a safe environment for patients, gametes and embryos.

Where clinics remain open either to continue treatment, or to provide a skeleton service, they must work within safe limits, including safe staffing numbers, and ensure stored gametes and embryos are not put at risk. If treatment services are disrupted clinics should put measures in place to keep patients informed of any changes and the reason for these, as well as have adequate cover to support patents who have concerns or require support.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 17 March 2020: Guidance for professionals

We understand that some patients are concerned about the current situation with COVID-19 and whether this should be a reason to stop IVF treatment.

We cannot provide patients or clinics with medical guidance or make medical decisions. However, our current advice to clinics is to refer to UK professional guidance for advice when making decisions about whether to offer treatment. Patients should discuss their individual circumstances with their clinic before considering starting treatment. British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists issued joint guidance on 16 March and we are in regular communication with them. We have also shared guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to all clinics.

However, we are aware that there are different opinions among professional bodies globally and your clinic should be aware of this, but we reiterate our advice for clinics to follow UK professional guidance only and depending on the individual clinics circumstances they can continue to treating patients at the current time.

We are also aware that some clinics have had to stop treatments for other reasons such as low staffing levels due to staff being redeployed to other areas and emergency planning measures in their hospital. These decisions are taken locally by the individual clinic and are not something that the HFEA is involved in. We have not issued guidance which says all clinics should cease providing treatment at this time.

We are closely monitoring the situation and will share any new information that we receive via our website and social media channels.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 17 March 2020: Clinic inspections

Following UK government’s updated guidance on COVID-19 yesterday, we’ve decided to cease clinic inspections starting from today until the end of August 2020.

The HFE Act requires that all clinics must have a licence from us to offer services and we will put measures in place that allow clinics to continue to operate lawfully.

These include:

  • Clinics that are due renewal inspections between now and August will have their inspection date deferred
  • Where clinics have a four-year licence (at their previous renewal) and where compliance has been demonstrated, we will issue a one-year extension to the licence.
  • Where there is evidence of issues some clinics may be asked to provide information to enable a desktop analysis to be conducted before any extension can be granted.
  • Clinics that have a four-year licence and are due an interim inspection between now and the end of August will not be inspected.
  • Clinics with licences of less than 4 years or where a targeted inspection is required may either be asked to provide information for a desktop analysis and/or will be inspected as soon as possible after the inspection schedule restarts.
  • Research centres that have a licensed research project that is due for renewal between now and the end of August will have a desk-based renewal inspection with a decision on the renewal of the licence taken by an HFEA committee (by paragraph 3(8) of Schedule 2 a research licence cannot be granted for a period exceeding 3 years).

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 16 March 2020: UK professional guidance

We are carefully following the coronavirus pandemic and UK government measures to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus.  We are monitoring updates issued by the Department of Health and Social Care,Public Health England and the NHS.

Our priority is the health and safety of patients, clinic staff and our staff. We’re taking the following actions to deal with any potential implications of the coronavirus outbreak. These include:

  • Following official government guidelines and advice
  • Monitoring clinics who are due inspections and will ensure continuity of licence is maintained if we are unable to inspect before a licence period runs out
  • Provided advice for our staff. We have a business continuity plan in place to ensure we can respond efficiently to serious business disruption

We expect clinics to have their own business continuity and contingency plans to respond to official advice or cope with specific local effects of coronavirus in their own hospitals and clinics.

Clinics should follow professional UK guidance from the British Fertility Society and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on treating patients throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

As the regulator, we are unable to provide advice on individual medical questions. Patients who are currently undergoing fertility treatment or are pregnant should contact their clinic for advice and questions about their treatment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 05 March 2020: Gamete donation

The Joint UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC) has issued a number of Change Notifications that applies to all the tissue and cells donor selection guidelines, this includes:

Must not donate if:

a) Less than 28 days from a donor’s return from a Coronavirus risk area. This includes transit through an airport in a Coronavirus risk area, even if the traveller has not left the airport.

b) Less than 28 days from the last contact with a person with Coronavirus infection.

c) Less than 28 days since recovery from Coronavirus infection or possible Coronavirus infection.

They also issued a Change Notification regarding the Geographical Disease Risk Index (GDRI). As there are a number of countries listed in this index we advise that you visit the JPAC website for regular updates of which countries are considered a high risk.

The HFEA has issued multiple alerts to clinics regarding Coronavirus. These can be found in the alerts section of the portal. We will continue to issue alerts when necessary as well as maintain the information on this page.

The government continue to provide the latest information and advice on Coronavirus on their website, and action plan which may also be helpful.

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Review date: 26 November 2022