The decision to undergo fertility treatment is not one that should be taken lightly. It can place immense mental and physical stress upon those involved. And for couples who don’t qualify for treatment on the NHS, fertility treatment can present a considerable financial burden, too.
Whether you’re at the start of your fertility journey or in the midst of it all, there are various costs - upfront, ongoing and hidden - to be aware of. But there’s also plenty of support out there to help you navigate your options. Tess Cosad - CEO and co-founder of inclusive fertility firm Béa Fertility - explains where to start.
Qualifying for fertility treatment on the NHS
The fertility treatment options currently available through the NHS are Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
The specific criteria to qualify for IUI and IVF vary between Trusts, so check with your GP or local CCG to find out whether you’re eligible. Generally speaking, in order to meet the NHS’s criteria for IVF, you must not yet have any children (whether your own or your partner’s from a previous relationship). You must also be under 35 years old, under a specific BMI and living in a postcode that has the capacity to offer you treatment. The system can be particularly difficult (and expensive) to navigate for single women and same-sex couples, as self-funded testing and treatments can be required upfront to evidence infertility.
Those who do not qualify for treatment on the NHS can seek help from private clinics. When going private, IVF and IUI can cost up to £5,000 and £1,500 per round respectively.
How to cope with the financial stress of fertility treatment
Get to know your body (and that of your partner)
The easiest and cheapest way to rule out 50% of fertility problems is to do a semen test. ExSeed offers at-home semen analysis. For those with female reproductive organs, Hertility, Parla and others offer self-administered female hormone blood tests that can be sent directly to your door. Before paying for any clinical fertility treatment, it’s worth digging a little deeper into your reproductive health using some of these tools so you’ve ruled out anything major and feel confident that you’re getting what you need.
Get to know your options
It’s important to be clued up on what’s available to you and what it will cost, so you can make the best choices for you and your family. From hormone therapy to Intrauterine Insemination, IVF and even egg freezing, research the various fertility options available so you can make an informed choice. The Fertility Network UK and the HFEA both offer free, impartial and accurate advice.
You should also look into new and emerging treatments, as these can be cheaper. For example, Béa Fertility are developing an at-home fertility treatment kit that will enable you to carry out Intracervical Insemination safely at home. ICI is just as effective as IUI, but is far cheaper and non-invasive. It will cost just £300 per complete kit, compared to £1500 for one cycle of IUI. Knowing what’s out there can help ensure both you and your partner feel confident with your fertility decision.
Be realistic about the process and what it might cost you. You’re never guaranteed NHS treatment.
NHS fertility treatment provision is notoriously patchy. Even if you meet the criteria, your CCG may not be able to offer you treatment right away. Couples are also required to try to conceive at home before being offered NHS treatment. Depending on the CCG (as a heterosexual couple) this can mean paying for at least six rounds of artificial insemination before being eligible for treatment on the NHS; and even then, funded treatment isn’t guaranteed.
Research your CCG before embarking on your treatment journey and ensure you have the financial runway necessary to fund the treatment you’re looking for, should NHS provision fall through. Be realistic and plan for the ‘worst-case scenario’ to ensure you’re only doing what you can afford.
Set a budget with your partner
Fertility treatment is emotionally exhausting. It can become a cycle of hope, anxious anticipation and heartbreak. If a treatment cycle doesn’t end in a pregnancy, it can leave you feeling even more desperate to try again. Unfortunately, numerous cycles of treatment aren’t financially viable for everyone.
In order to minimise the financial stress your fertility journey causes, I’d recommend talking about a hard budget with your partner in advance. Make a plan, so that when treatment starts and hormones start to change you have something to refer back to. Just because you reach your budget doesn’t mean it’s over, but it’s important to have the conversation before you begin the journey, if only to make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Plan for any additional costs for things like ‘cryopreservation’, consultations and tests
If seeking treatment privately, make sure you find out what's included in the advertised treatment price. It’s important to be aware of what’s coming so that you’re not surprised by any unexpected fees. Look out for extras like ‘cryopreservation’ that are often offered alongside IVF, and get clarity on whether you’ll have to pay for any additional consultations or tests along the way. You might not need these additional services, so keep an eye to ensure you’re not being upsold add-ons that could incur an additional cost.
Find out whether your workplace gives you paid time off for fertility treatment
Chances are that you’ll need to take time off work at one stage or another during your fertility treatment journey. If you’re paying for private treatment, you may not be able to afford to take this leave unpaid. You’re well within your rights to ask for time off to attend appointments; but clear what you’re entitled to in terms of paid time off before you start treatment, in case it impacts what you can realistically afford.
Remember that clinics are commercial entities, and often market treatments specifically to women
Society is constantly telling women that their biological clocks are ticking and that the race to have children is on as soon as you hit thirty. Fertility clinics are often guilty of taking advantage of this culture, marketing egg freezing (and other fertility treatments) specifically to women. When approaching a fertility clinic about your treatment options, remember that it’s your body and your choice; and that you don’t need to rush into anything you’re not sure of. Don’t give into the pressure to start treatments you’re not ready for or can’t comfortably afford.
Be transparent with friends and family about the finances (where possible)
Fertility treatment is expensive and you might have mixed emotions about opening up to friends or family about the cost. But it’s important to be transparent about the financial element of the process, if you can. Hiding the financial burden will only increase the heavy personal weight you must carry around whilst undergoing treatment. Surround yourself with people who know what you’re going through and who you can be open and honest with every step of the way - including when it comes to the financial strain. It’s important to be able to be honest in order to protect your own mental wellbeing and get support when needed.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional advice and support
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, first of all, remember that you’re not alone. Infertility affects an estimated one in seven couples.) in the UK. When it comes to money matters, there are organisations and charities out there that are ready to advise and support you. The Fertility Foundation not only provides educational support and advice, but also offers IVF grants. Support lines and groups are available through the Fertility Network. And if you do decide to go ahead and seek fertility treatment privately, take a look at HFEA (the UK’s fertility regulator) for free and impartial information on all the different fertility clinics and types of treatment available to you.