National Fertility Week 2020: Beverley Addison, a specialist in Fertility Law in Scotland, looks at the impact of COVID-19 on the fertility sector in Scotland, and what the next few months might look like.
This week is National Fertility Week 2020. Run annually by Fertility Network UK, Fertility Week sheds a spotlight on the fertility sector and the struggles faced by those going through their fertility journey.
Each year we support National Fertility Week by running a series of blog and awareness raising initiatives, and this year is no different (although a bit more virtual!)
Today we are talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the fertility sector in Scotland, and what the next few months might look like.
During the immediate aftermath of the initial national lockdown in March, all fertility clinics had to shut their doors, which unfortunately for many put a stop or certainly a long pause on their access to fertility treatment.
This has had a knock-on effect to the present day, with longer waiting lists meaning an inevitable delay in accessing treatment for many.
Thankfully, in May 2020 clinics could begin to reopen so long as they were able to comply with professional guidelines and keep patients safe, and the HFEA has confirmed that this will continue to be the practice throughout any other national lockdowns which may become necessary, including any Level 4 Lockdowns in Scotland.
All HFEA licensed clinics must set out a Treatment Commencement Strategy showing how they can provide a safe service for their staff and patients during the pandemic. These strategies are kept under regular review by clinics and HFEA inspectors, and all clinics should follow the latest guidance from the UK professional bodies – the British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists.
The good news for patients is that these new measures mean that any future significant closures should be relatively rare, however, this might become necessary in individual hospitals or trusts, particularly those linked to the NHS, if they decide that continuing to operate (or operate certain procedures) would put a high level of risk on already hard-hit services or indeed the patients themselves.
Each individual clinic will continue to follow professional and local guidance and will adapt their treatment strategy to ensure fertility treatment can continue to be provided safely wherever possible.
During (and since) the initial lockdown, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have advised against all but essential travel abroad. This meant that a number of commercial flights and other travel options were cancelled entirely dependant on the rules of the outbound destination in respect of travellers, with many banning international arrivals altogether.
Although this impacted on a number of different fertility services, the main problem came for those in the middle of an international surrogacy arrangement. Back in April, we wrote in detail about how this may impact you specifically, any much of that advice still applies today (here: Covid-19 implications for international surrogacy arrangements)
At the time of writing, there are many more options for essential travel including more flights taking place. However, this must come with a word of caution as the trends across Europe in particular show an increasing risk of the virus and many popular surrogacy destinations are anticipating going into a second lockdown within the next few weeks. It is important that you carefully plan when and whether to go abroad for treatment, as you may run the risk of being stuck in the outbound country or requiring to isolate on your return when you were otherwise not expecting to.
You can find the most up to date travel guidance on all countries here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): international travel and quarantine.
Courts & Legal Advice
During the initial lockdown, all Scottish Court buildings closed, only dealing with urgent and essential business such as child protection matters. The delay to embrace a more digital court system caused a few months of delay for many, however, the good news is that all Sheriff Courts and the Court of Session are now back on their feet and running almost all types of business relatively smoothly now with the help of remote hearings.
From a fertility perspective, this means that new Parental Order applications can be submitted and can be done electronically for the first time, streamlining the process at many of the Sheriff Courts in particular. The registers of births and marriages are now also open again, making it easier to provide and receive the certificates you need.
With fertility treatment itself going slower than normal at present, many clients have been taking this time to deal with the other aspects of their journey such as obtaining legal advice. We are delighted to have been able to offer this service during this time remotely, helping to keep our clients moving with their fertility journey even during such an uncertain time.
If you have any questions about how COVID-19 may impact on your fertility plans, get in touch with us and we would be happy to help.
At BTO we have a specialist Fertility Law team which covers every angle of your fertility journey, including solicitors who can advise on conception, parentage, the use and ownership of stored gametes, wealth and estate planning and family-friendly employment advice. We offer a 360-degree review of your specific circumstances from the outset and ensure that you are in safe hands so that you can focus on the important part – becoming a parent. Click here to learn more.