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Matt Hancock has announced the restoration of NHS fertility services now the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak.
The health secretary announced the move at the daily Downing Street press conference as he said the country was “restoring the NHS and restoring the chance for so many people couples to start a family”.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said fertility clinics across the UK can apply to reopen from May 11 if they ensure the safety and protection of staff and patients.
Fertility services were temporarily suspended on March 23 in response to the coronavirus lockdown.
Sharing some “really good news”, Hancock said: “Earlier this week I said that we are now able to bring the restoration of NHS services.
“Few families have been untouched by the amazing advances in fertility treatments over the past generation and I know just how time-sensitive treatment can be and how important it is for the families affected.
“And I know that this treatment can change lives for the better forever. So when I say thank you for all of you, everybody watching, for staying at home to protect the NHS, of course I’m saying thank you on behalf of the lives that you’re saving.
“But I’m also saying thanks on behalf of the lives that the NHS can now once again help to create.”
Whilst many private clinics may be able to restart services quickly, the Department of Health and Social Care said it recognises that NHS clinics may require longer to achieve the necessary conditions due to factors including the redeployment of staff in frontline roles.
Therefore, Hancock will write to all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) this week to confirm they are able to begin resuming fertility treatments to those in their area, either through a private clinic or an NHS service, “to ensure fair provision”.
NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners are drawing up guidance for CCGs to put in place a framework for resuming services.
The new guidance will allow clinics to reopen only if they can prove measures to protect staff and patients are in place and will mean individuals and couples looking to start fertility treatment will be able to safely continue to do so.
Social distancing will be required in waiting rooms, telephone appointments could be used where suitable and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment will also be provided where necessary, the Department for Health and Social Care said.
An auditing tool will be used to ensure clinics are complying with the guidelines.
Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: “I am pleased that the HFEA has agreed fertility clinics can apply to reopen from May 11.
“Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to consider how treatment could resume quickly and safely for as many patients as possible and our clear plan sets out how clinics can treat and care for patients safely during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
“I know that the closure of clinics has been extremely distressing for patients and this will be good news for those wanting to resume treatment and have the opportunity to try for their much longed for family.”
Geeta Nargund, lead consultant for Reproductive Medicine at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, added: “We are delighted that IVF services are opening soon.
“We thank the government for recognising the distress faced by thousands of women and couples across our nation and acting swiftly to help them.
“We must ensure that effective social distancing and safety measures are put in place so that we can not only help save lives but start creating lives again.”