COVID-19-related delays to fertility treatment for Scottish patients are among the longest in the world, a global study has claimed.
Fertility clinic staff from 43 countries were surveyed in relation to their response to the pandemic and its impact on treatment. On average, fertility patients around the world faced delays of 60 days to their treatment, with Scottish patients experiencing the longest delays of 228 days.
'Patients usually undergo one cycle of treatment in approximately three weeks' said PhD student Elizabeth Cutting from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia who led the research. 'With the delays shown, patients on average missed at least two cycles of treatment. For instance, for those needing fertility preservation prior to chemotherapy, missing two cycles may be vital to their chances of parenthood'.
The research, published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, found no reported delays to fertility treatment because of the pandemic in six countries: Austria, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Norway and Portugal.
Many of the clinics adopted a cautionary approach to treatment in the early days of the pandemic, as the effects of the virus on fertility and during pregnancy were largely unknown. Nine countries followed government advice on their approach to fertility treatment, while the others followed advice from professional bodies, a combination of recommendations, or their own in-clinic initiatives.
The government of Victoria, Australia was recently criticised for pausing IVF treatment in the state as a result of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, considering it an elective treatment. Following a petition, IVF services were reinstated (see BioNews 1129).
The study was limited to one clinic's experience from each country, and a Scottish government spokesperson said it 'does not present an accurate finding of the reopening of NHS Assisted Conception Units in Scotland in 2020'.
They also added that: 'To ensure that no one on the waiting list at the time of the pause was disadvantaged, all patients had at least an additional six months added to the journey.'
As the clinics surveyed are not named, it is unclear whether the other 'UK' clinic surveyed was NHS or in the private sector, or in which part of the UK it was located. This clinic reported a delay of 50 days which was the median average among all the clinics surveyed.