Getting fertility treatment can be a long and complicated process. When it comes to undertaking fertility treatment of any kind on the NHS, there are three main types of treatments: fertility medication, surgical procedures, and assisted conception such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF). These processes range in how long they take, what they entail and when for whom they are suitable. However, you will first have to climb the NHS waiting list before starting your fertility treatment.
The NHS Fertility Waiting List
How long you will be on the waiting list for fertility treatment in the UK will depend on whether you are having treatment through the NHS or with a private healthcare clinic. In the UK, 60% of people choose to fund fertility privately. The number one reason for doing so is because of wait times.
The time it will take for you to get fertility treatment on the NHS mostly depends on your local area and its Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Fortunately, many NHS clinics in England now operate with an 18-week policy. This means that you should be able to begin fertility treatment within 18 weeks of your GP referral. However, CCGs normally require patients to have fertility testing and other forms of fertility treatment in the UK before approving IVF funding and there may be other exclusions which you should be aware of prior to starting your fertility treatment journey.
Your GP will be able to do an initial assessment to check for things that may be causing fertility problems and advise about what to do next. Usually, an initial blood test is taken, and results are typically available within 7 to 10 days. Further testing can involve ultrasounds, X-rays, semen analyses and other examinations that your doctor might suggest. Each of these procedures takes time to arrange and carry out.
It is difficult to predict how long testing will take as this depends on each couples fertility problems. However, the NHS warns that fertility testing can take time, and as female fertility decreases with age, it is best to make an appointment early. Also, your GP will tend not to be the medical professional that prescribes fertility drugs, as this will need to be done further down the line at a secondary or tertiary level. Therefore, although the first stop on your journey to fertility and conception, the GP will need to refer you to a fertility specialist.
Fertility drugs are often the first step when it comes to fertility treatment for couples who are struggling to conceive. Clomiphene, also known as 'Clomid,' is one of the most common drugs prescribed for women who are not ovulating normally. These drugs are often used alongside other fertility methods, like artificial insemination.
The typical prescription requires women to take clomiphene every day for five days, starting a few days after they get their period. Around 60% to 80% of women who take clomiphene will begin to ovulate regularly, and about 50% will be successful in getting pregnant. Most pregnancies happen within just three cycles. After ovulation begins to regulate, most doctors recommend taking clomiphene for no more than six months. If you haven't become pregnant by this time, they will suggest another treatment.
IUI for Fertility
The NHS warns that waiting lists for IUI treatment vary and can be very long in some areas. Once you schedule an IUI appointment, it can last up to 2 hours. The procedure itself is relatively simple and takes just a few minutes once the semen sample is ready. However, IUI is always performed near the time that the woman is ovulating. Therefore, you may need to wait to have the procedure until the timing in your cycle is right. IUI may not be successful the first time around, and you can repeat the process the following month. Statistics show that most IUI pregnancies happen in the first three to four cycles of IUI.
IVF Treatment for Infertility
While wait times vary, once you have received funding for IVF on the NHS, you can reasonably expect to wait around four months to begin treatment. For IVF at a private clinic, there may be no waiting times at all to consider. Once treatment has begun, you can expect one IVF cycle to take between six and nine weeks. This includes the time it takes to find out whether you have been successful in getting pregnant. If the cycle is unsuccessful, it does not mean there is no hope. Many people repeat the IVF process and get pregnant through subsequent cycles.
Why Does Fertility Treatment Take So Long?
There are many steps to go through when it comes to fertility treatments, and after all, more than once cycle might be required. Moreover, fertility treatments, particularly on the NHS in the UK often have long waiting lists. As limited resources are available to NHS clinics, they cannot accommodate everyone hoping to get fertility treatment at the same time. Although having treatment at a private fertility clinic will not guarantee better chances of success, they can ensure shorter waiting times and they may allow access to world-leading fertility experts in a way a public health system can be unable to guarantee.
On the other hand, some waiting times for fertility treatment of any type cannot be avoided as certain fertility medications and treatments take time to work. Don't lose patience in your fertility journey. Even if your first cycle of treatment doesn't work, it's common for medications, IUI and IVF to be successful after a few cycles.