‘It is a real possibility we won’t be able to have children now because of the delay’. A survey of nearly 400 patients by the charity Fertility Network UK has explored the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic on those waiting for fertility treatment. A majority of respondents (58%) had experienced delays being able to access treatment as a result of the pandemic, and a quarter had not been able to access emotional support or counselling.
‘Our first appointment with our clinic was in September 2019. We still haven’t started treatment yet.’
Patients reported widespread delays in diagnostic testing, including blood tests and semen analysis and a range of surgical procedures from laparoscopy to surgical sperm retrieval. Delays ranged from months to more than two years.
Many patients had to repeat tests which were out of date by the time they were able to access treatment, and reported appointments being repeatedly cancelled.
‘I was only allowed to appointments on my own. When I was given bad news, this was incredibly difficult and still impacts me now.’
Male partners were often unable to attend fertility appointments, which meant patients reported having to go through miscarriages and receive bad news alone. Fertility appointments were often carried out over the phone, which some found particularly challenging given the sensitive nature of the problem.
‘It is hard to put into words the trauma of having my treatment delayed. The stress and anxiety suffered was indescribable.’
Respondents described the impact of COVID as heart-breaking and devastating and the survey highlighted the way mental health and wellbeing were affected. Patients reported increased levels of anxiety, depression, stress and frustration, and many were concerned that the delays had impacted their chances of ever having a family.
A quarter of patients reported problems accessing counselling support and had struggled alone after miscarriages or unsuccessful treatment. Many said counselling was not mentioned at all, despite this being a requirement for licensed fertility clinics, while others faced long waiting lists to see counsellors
Gwenda Burns, chief executive of Fertility Network UK said: ‘Our survey shows the devastating reality of delays to tests and treatment for fertility patients. It is clear the delays are ongoing and that many are concerned about how this will impact their chances of having a family. We are particularly concerned for those who haven’t been able to access counselling and would remind anyone affected by this that we are at hand to offer support.’