I had my first (and last) cycle of IVF abroad in 2016 and I chose to go abroad for a variety of reasons, having not met the UK NHS criteria for NHS funded treatment. In my view, going abroad for fertility treatment is becoming an increasingly popular choice for many UK fertility patients. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why I believe that trend is happening..
Availability of NHS funded treatment
National Institute of Clinical Excellent (NICE) guidelines in the UK state that: Women aged under 40 years who meet the criteria for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are offered 3 full cycles of IVF and those between 40-42 years who meet the criteria for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are offered 1 full cycle of IVF. (Nice Quality Statement)
However, these are only UK guidelines and sadly do not reflect the reality for so many people. NHS healthcare budgets are controlled by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who make decisions on how budgets are allocated.
CCGs are responsible for achieving the best possible health outcomes for their local population with the funds they have available. They decide how to allocate their budgets, which means they determine on a local level how many rounds of IVF (if any) are offered to residents living in their postcode area. CCGs also decide on the criteria for treatment and this sometimes results in limited or no funded treatment at all being offered. I personally find this frustrating particularly when WHO (World Health Organisation) recognise infertility as being ‘a disease’. WHO formally recognised infertility as a disease in its international glossary of Assistive Reproduction Technologies (ART) terminology in 2009.
Cuts to Government funding to CCGs have added further pressure. In my view, this goes some way to explain why many people feel under pressure to fund their fertility treatment themselves.
Eligibility criteria is also a key factor. The eligibility criteria for NHS funded IVF treatment include: time already spent trying to conceive, whether you smoke or not, BMI (body mass index), whether you’re single or in a relationship, whether your partner (if you have one) already has a child, whether you’re in a same-sex relationship or not and whether you have a disability which prevents you from having sexual intercourse. In comparison and in my view, privately funded fertility testing and IVF treatment is not subject to so many eligibility criteria.
Cost of fertility testing and treatment in the UK
Costs for privately funded fertility testing and treatment in the UK can be prohibitive for many people. There are however companies who are looking to change the way people pay for access to fertility testing and treatments by providing personalised insurance and financing plans. These companies include: Gaia Family, Access Fertility and Redia IVF.
Cost of fertility testing and treatment abroad
In my experience, fertility testing and treatment is often cheaper abroad. I also find that there tends to be transparency and clarity for patients choosing a clinic abroad regarding the full costs involved in fertility testing and treatment. Of course, it’s important for UK patients considering going abroad to ask the right questions at the start of the process and essentially before travelling.
There is a perception that success rates abroad are higher than those in the UK and vice versa. It is impossible to accurately compare success rates abroad to those in the UK due to differences in the way success rates may be reported and if they are independently verified.
Covid-19 has had a negative impact on increasing waiting times for treatment on the NHS in the UK and in some cases privately in the UK too. These can be particularly long for those who require egg donation and for those who are not Caucasian and/or who may want anonymous donation. In my experience, when patients go abroad there are either no waiting lists or short waiting lists for testing and treatment.
Donor-assisted treatment options
In my experience, there are generally more options available abroad for donor-assisted treatment. Please be aware that different countries have different regulations regarding egg and/or sperm donation. It’s vital to do your research.
Combine fertility treatment with a holiday abroad
Undertaking fertility testing and treatment can undoubtedly be emotionally and physically stressful. Some people find the experience abroad to be more relaxing purely due to the change of scene and time spent away from the pressures of work. Others may find comfort in the reassurances afforded by being ‘at home’ in the UK when going through testing and treatment. What’s important is to plan and do what feels right for you.
Flights and accommodation
Low-cost flights, particularly to Europe make fertility testing and treatment abroad a financially viable option for many. My advice is to plan ahead and to make full use of any accommodation recommendations from your clinic abroad. Proximity to the clinic site is important, particularly at key stages of an IVF cycle.
Standards of healthcare and patient care abroad
In my view, many countries outside of the UK offer similar standards of healthcare to here in the UK. Many clinics abroad are experienced in dealing with international patients and often speak excellent English. Some clinics abroad offer state-of-the-art facilities. Research is key. Get to the know the clinic you’re considering. Ideally, speak with other patients who have used the clinic’s services.
The decision to go abroad for fertility testing and treatment is ultimately a personal one. My main advice is to do your research – both on the country’s fertility legislation and on the clinic you have in mind. Reputable clinics abroad will offer you an opportunity to ask all of your questions in advance. A reputable clinic will share full, transparent costs up-front, before you travel.