Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: 'Too many women left in the dark' over IVF in NI

Natalie Graham Image copyright Natalie Graham
Image caption Natalie Graham said she felt 'abandoned' after the regional fertility centre closed and she heard nothing from them

A woman who gave up waiting for her fertility treatment to resume in Northern Ireland has said too many like her have been "left in the dark".

Natalie Graham decided to go for private IVF treatment in the Republic of Ireland after the closure of NI's Regional Fertility Centre due to Covid-19.

"As the weeks go on and you hear nothing, you just feel like you've been forgotten about," she said.

"I just lost hope."

The Belfast Trust said that resuming fertility treatment following Covid-19 was a priority.

It said services at the Regional Fertility Centre in Belfast would resume in the coming weeks, but at a reduced level.

There will be extended opening hours so that as many patients as possible can be seen safely.

Fertility clinics in the rest of the UK were given the go ahead to open again from 11 May.

Mrs Graham, who is from Belfast, told BBC News NI's Good Morning Ulster on Tuesday that coronavirus had compounded what was an "emotional rollercoaster" for her and many other women in her situation.

She had waited five months for her first appointment at the Regional Fertility Centre.

That happened in December and she had been due to return in March. After that, she was told that she would be put on a waiting list which, at that stage, was about a year.

However, the centre closed following the coronavirus outbreak.

"I've had absolutely no contact," she said.

"I am also part of a fertility support group and I know a lot of women who have had treatments cancelled.

"I know women in a similar position to me and we have just been left in the dark."

Mrs Graham said the trust should have sent out letters so that women like her did not feel abandoned at what is a very difficult time.

"We have had no contact. Yes, they've updated their web page, but we've had very minimal and unclear information.

"I don't think people understand the emotional impact of it. Especially for those women who have had treatment cancelled.

"For me, it is an emotional rollercoaster... you are waiting and waiting for this. You already have it in your head that it could be up to a year and, as the weeks go on and you hear nothing, you just feel like you've been forgotten about."

She said the waiting caused anxiety.

'Took matters into my own hands'

"They needed to have given us some sort of guidance, even a letter to say: 'Don't worry we haven't forgotten about you. We are closed, we will be resuming, we will be in contact.'

"The simple fact of being ignored has made me lose any faith in ever getting treatment from them."

As time ticked on, Ms Graham decided to go for private fertility treatment in the Republic of Ireland.

"It was super quick. I took matters into my own hands and was able to get a consultation within one week.

"I was able, two weeks later, to get tests done and they have told me that they would be hoping to put embryos in by that end of August. It is just fantastic."

But she is aware that others are not in a position to take that path.

Image caption Mrs Graham opted for private treatment in the Republic of Ireland

"These people are going to give me a chance in the next couple of months whereas up here there is no sign of anything happening.

"I don't have time... I do need to be moving quickly."

Ms Graham said women who were getting older could fail to meet the criteria set for NHS fertility treatment because of their age and were asking if they could have some leeway, given the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19.

"It's so emotionally draining. People need to know. There needs to be more done for people going through this," she said.

When services were suspended in March, 33 women were told by phone that their treatment was postponed.

Patients arriving at the clinic were told to discontinue their injections.

In a statement, the Belfast Trust said: "Resuming fertility services has been identified as a priority and as such services are expected to resume in the coming weeks.

"We would like to thank the public for their patience, particularly if they have had a treatment or appointments cancelled during the time that the RFC (Regional Fertility Centre) has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"When services resume they will be at a reduced capacity, however there will be extended opening hours to help us provide appointments to as many patients as safely possible."

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