Fertility data predicts ‘worrying consequences’ of COVID-19 IVF delays

Recent statistics suggest the COVID-19 pandemic has further threatened the UK’s declining birth rate, with IVF patients particularly affected.

A predictive modelling study by Aberdeen University estimates delays to accessing fertility treatments caused by COVID-19 could significantly impact IVF live births. 

provisional analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also previously revealed a 3.6% decrease in live births in England and Wales between January to September 2020.

Fertility Network UK’s chief executive Gwenda Burns said: “COVID-19 has already had an impact on fertility services in 2020, including initial widespread clinic closures and disruptions to other services, such as sperm banks.

“However, the study highlights worrying consequences to delays for certain groups.”

Although fertility clinics are now able to safely treat patients, the study estimated delays could cause an 11.8% reduction in IVF live births among women aged 40-42 who experienced a six-month delay in accessing treatment. 

This increased to a 22.4% reduction for a 12-month delay within the same age group.

According to the ONS data, the total fertility rate had already decreased from 1.65 in 2019 to 1.6 in 2020, the eighth year in a row that a decline was recorded.

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesperson Dr Virginia Beckett said: “There are many reasons why the birth rate has continued to decline since 2013. 

“During the pandemic this could be due to concerns by women over the risk of COVID-19 infections or the impact financially of having a baby. 

“Another reason for the longer-term decline in birth rate in the UK and globally is because women are choosing to have a baby at a later age. 

“We know that female fertility starts to decline gradually from the late 20s and more rapidly from the mid-30s onwards.

“As well as potentially taking longer to get pregnant, later maternity can involve a greater risk of miscarriage, a more complicated labour, and medical intervention at the birth.

“All these factors contribute to lower birth rates.” 

Fertility Network UK is a national charity offering free, impartial advice and support to those affected by fertility problems, with services including a support line, groups and webinars.

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