Are Fertility Clinics in the UK Regulated?

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A fertility clinic is a medical facility that helps individuals struggling to conceive to have children. It can be an NHS or private clinic. Legal fertility decisions are based on the Human Fertility and Embryology (HFE) act of 1990 (as amended) and 2008, as well as several related pieces of legislation. All clinics must be licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which regularly inspects clinics to ensure that the HFEA codes of practice are maintained.

What Is Fertility?

Fertility is defined as the ability to conceive children or young. Fertility begins at puberty and continues until menopause in women, at between 45-55 years of age unless premature, or 60-65 years for men. Fertility can be disrupted by stress, as the Cortisol stress hormone reduces the production of the key fertility hormones Oestrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone, as well as some health conditions such cancer chemotherapy, obesity, anorexia, athletes’ triad, and some genetic diseases.

Every time a couple have unprotected sexual intercourse, they have approximately 15-25% chance of getting pregnant. Yet, according to NHS England, 1 in 7 couples have problems conceiving. This may be because of low sperm count in the male, hormonal disorders such as Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and problems with the thyroid or pituitary gland in the female. Women with blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis and infections can also have lower chance of conception and require the services of a fertility clinic.

What Affects Fertility?

Some medications also affect fertility with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), chemotherapy, neuroleptic and antipsychotic medications and anabolic steroids (which affect sperm count and motility), causing conception disorders. Illegal drugs, such as weed (marijuana), speed and cocaine can also affect sperm quality in men.

Same sex couples, independent individuals wanting to conceive without a partner, and women above the age of 35 or with perimenopause or a family history of premature menopause, also require fertility support. Infertility occurs when natural conception cannot occur. Infertility is diagnosed only when a couple have not managed to conceive despite a year of trying (or six months if a woman is over 35).

How Do Fertility Clinics Treat Infertility?

The NHS fertility services, and private fertility services have many methods to treat infertility. To get pregnant an egg must be released, meet a sperm and implant in the lining of the womb and develop into an embryo and baby. Early miscarriage is also considered part of fertility disorders. Treatments involve checking sperm motility and count in the male, treatment of ovulation (the egg release in a female) and hormonal disorders in the female, artificial intrauterine insemination (IUI) or assisted reproductive technology (ART). These occur in a specialised fertility clinic.

There are many types of ART including IVF treatment or in vitro fertilisation where the egg is fertilised outside the body and then inserted into a female to grow and develop. In the UK the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) sets the guidelines as to who is entitled to IVF, but the final decision is made by the by local clinical commissioning groups or CCGs. CCGs allocate fertility resource based upon budgetary limits, patient waiting lists for IVF and fertility treatments in the UK and patient specific exclusion criteria which varies from one local authority to another.

Other treatments for infertility include egg freezing, medications including metformin for PCOS and clomiphene to encourage egg release. There are also options for surgical interventions in both male and females to unblock fallopian and testicle blockages that prevent egg and sperm release. Egg and sperm donation can also be used. Surrogacy could be an option for women who have a condition that means it's not possible or far too dangerous for them to give birth.

Due to the increased number of couples waiting till later in life to conceive, the waiting lists for NHS fertility treatments has vastly increased and the restriction criteria for patients made more thorough. This leaves many patients without the fertility treatment they require and without the prospect of conceiving a child.

How Are Fertility Clinics in the UK Regulated?

Due to the limitations of the excellent but highly stretched NHS, many people decide to go private for fertility treatments. It is important that patients chose a clinic that is regulated by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority). This authority ensures that a clinic is inspected to make sure it adheres to strict codes of conduct and that the costs and treatments maintain a high standard.

The HFEA recognises that there are no age limits set for fertility treatment by UK law and so eligibility for fertility treatments when private is based on a clinicians view of an individual patient or couples’ health, rather than with local NHS CCGs and their strict exclusion criterion. This allows more people the possibility of treatment privately. The HFEA will rate a clinic, both private and NHS, based on inspection results and patient reviews.

How Can GlobMed Help with Fertility?

At GlobMed, we are committed to helping everyone bring life to this world. We work hard to ensure that we help our clients to locate and access the best fertility clinics and that they all adhere to our strict guidelines and codes of professional practice. We do the research so that you don’t have to, helping you find the best treatment that you require.

We appreciate the emotional journey that infertility problems can cause, if desired by individuals, and so we ensure that we work with clinics with counselling services as well as fertility treatments, to ensure you are supported both mentally and physically.

From initial assessments to more complex procedures, when you need us most our specialists are there to ensure that you fully understand the procedure and are well taken care of. We do our best to give you the best chance of creating life.

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