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As you realise you'll need IVF to get pregnant and have decided to take the road of privately-funded fertility treatment, you'll have an awful lot of work on your hands figuring out which IVF clinic in the UK is right for you. Where do you start?

The right fertility clinic for you is — hopefully — one that you'll ultimately not think about too much in the future, because you'll be too busy raising the child it'll have helped you bring into the world. The excellent care you'll have received along the way won't stand out that much, because you'll not have had any bad experiences to compare it to, and your clinic will only come to mind when you're thinking of going back for another child or because someone else asked you to share your experience.

In the thick of researching the right clinic to provide you with privately-funded IVF treatment in the UK, however, there's just so much to think about. Unless you're already deeply familiar with the treatment itself and the available options, you'll have a hard time even deciding where to get started. 

As Catherine Hill from the charity Fertility Network UK told SteadyHealth, "After looking at success rates, choosing a clinic is all about what works best for each individual person — some prefer the closest one because IVF is time-consuming and commutes can be too lengthy. Some want to go abroad, because of cost or other issues. It's all about personal preferences." 

Discovering your personal preferences can be tricky when you aren't sure what you are looking for, however. 

Chopping the process into bite-sized steps can help! Here's how to get started with choosing the right IVF clinic in the UK to help you start or add to your family. 

Finding A Fertility Clinic Near You

You'll be seeing a lot of the inside of your chosen fertility clinic — during a single cycle of IVF, you can expect to need to be at the clinic for an initial consultation, pre-treatment screening to determine exactly what you need and how likely you are to conceive, to learn how to use the drug regimen you'll be using to stimulate your ovaries, for monitoring to see how you're doing on those drugs, for egg retrieval, embryo transfer, and then a pregnancy test. (And maybe more often, if you'll also be choosing an egg or sperm donor.)

Phew... that all sounds a bit overwhelming, doesn't it? Just imagine how much more nerve-wrecking that might get if you also had to spend lots of time travelling back and forth to an IVF clinic halfway across the country. Choosing a fertility clinic near you makes sense, wherever that's possible. To find out what's available in your more or less immediate neighbourhood, using the "choose a clinic" feature offered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is your simplest bet. [1] Play around with the tool, and it'll spit out information about all the clinics within an X-mile radius. This is an excellent starting point!

Finding A Fertility Clinic That Offers The IVF Treatment You Need

Your next logical step is eliminating those clinics that don't offer the services you need. By clicking on the clinic's details on the HFEA website, you'll be able to see what they do and don't offer at a glance. The HFEA will save you an awful lot of Googling in this area! As well as informing you whether the clinic you're looking at offers IVF and ISCI, it also tells you whether the clinic is able to treat patients with communicable viral diseases, performs surgical sperm extraction, offers fertility preservation, and even whether the clinic offers female doctors to those who are more comfortable with that, and whether it has a named nurse system. 

As you weed out the clinics that simply aren't suitable for you because they don't offer the IVF treatment you need, you're then left with a smaller selection of fertility clinics that may end up being the right choice for you. This is where the meaty part of your search really begins. 

Assessing The Success Rates Of The IVF Clinic That May Be Right For You

The HFEA publishes IVF success rates for all the fertility clinics it's licensed across the United Kingdom, and individual clinics themselves also publish their own success rates. You can use the data published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority whether you qualify for IVF on the NHS, or are paying privately. On a quest to find the fertility clinic that's most likely to help you get pregnant and stay pregnant, you're likely to pay quite a bit of attention to these IVF success rates. That's understandable, but there's a few things to remember as you look at a fertility clinic's success rates:

  • The success rates of smaller fertility clinics are less reliable than those of larger clinics that perform more IVF cycles. This is because only a few great or not-so-great outcomes — both of which can be due to chance or patient factors rather than the clinic's expertise — can easily shift the success rates by a few per cents. 
  • Remember to look at success rates by age group, but also realise that this is not the only thing that matters. Your particular chance of getting pregnant through IVF depends on your own individual factors, including the reasons for which you need IVF and your general health. Numbers on the screen do not represent your odds of getting pregnant; only a fertility consultant can predict your personal chances of successful IVF treatment.
  • Fertility clinics themselves are likely to visually present their own success rates in as positive a light as possible. If a clinic does exceptionally well with fresh IVF cycles in the under-38 age group, to name an example, they're quite likely to highlight this on their website. While these statistics will be accurate, they may simply not apply to you personally. 
  • When exploring the HFEA website, you'll want to take care to note whether a clinic's success rates are in accordance with the national average. Clinics that consistently score below the national average are those you may wish to avoid. One exception here is the multiple birth rate — multiple (twin and triplet) pregnancies are high-risk pregnancies. The HFEA believes that only 10 per cent of IVF pregnancies should be multiple pregnancies. [2]

What Will IVF Treatment In The United Kingdom Cost Me? Exploring Funding Options

IVF treatment comes with particularly high stakes. To invoke MasterCard's cheesy campaign, some things are simply "priceless". If that doesn't include babies, we don't know what does. You'd ideally, of course, like to rear a family without going bankrupt in the process, so cost is hardly irrelevant.

You can start by doing a straight-up comparison of the cost of some of the treatments  — like IVF, ICSI, and frozen embryo transfers —  at different clinics, even though you may not quite know exactly what you'll be needing, and even though the final fees will reflect your individualised treatment plan. Doing so is unlikely to help you find the final cost you will be paying, but it does help you explore which clinics offer more reasonable prices.

There are, however, also other things to look out for:

  • Some fertility clinics in Britain offer IVF refund programmes. By making use of these refund programmes, you may be able to get some or even all of the cost of treatment refunded should your treatment fail. While these programmes add to the cost of an individual cycle if it's successful, choosing this option does give you (some of) your money back if you don't get pregnant.
  • Many clinics offer multi-cycle discount packages that can reduce the overall cost of your IVF treatment. 
  • Some clinics offer "egg sharing", in which those women who are able to produce ample eggs share their eggs with a woman in need of an egg donor. This can reduce the cost of your IVF treatment or even result in IVF treatment being offered at no cost. Not every woman will want to consider this, of course. 
  • Some clinics charge extra for certain services, such as EmbryoGlue [3] and endometrial scratching [4], which improve pregnancy rates greatly, whilst others routinely use these techniques at no extra cost. This is yet another thing to look out for. 
  • Should you have a private health insurance policy, part of your treatment may be covered, but not necessarily at each clinic. Check this. 

What Do Previous Patients Think About 'Your' IVF Clinic?

How crowded is the clinic? How compassionate are the staff? How willing are they to take extra time to answer all the questions you have, no matter how "silly" they may be? How well will your fertility consultant explain all the procedures you'll undergo to you? Is the subjective "feel" of the clinic good?

As important as these questions are, it's quite tricky to find answers. The HFEA ostensibly offers patient ratings for all the clinics licensed by them, but in reality, you'll frequently find that none are available. Clinics will offer patient testimonials, but they're hardly going to pick dissatisfied customers for those. Here, you need input from the only people who can honestly tell you these things — people who've already been treated by the clinic. Hey, that's what the internet is for. Try:

  • Facebook — several UK IVF support groups are available there, and you'll be able to find people who've already been treated by clinics you're considering there. 
  • Internet forums such as BabyCentre and Netmums. Do note that some of the more dated replies you'll find may no longer be relevant. Some fertility clinics even have their very own online forums. 
  • If you're considering having privately-funded IVF at an NHS clinic, don't underestimate the NHS Choices website, which contains patient reviews, as a valuable source of information. 
  • You can also ask the clinic to refer you to previous patients who are willing to talk to you about their experiences. (Once you go to a clinic, you may also be able to strike up conversations with people in the waiting room!)
  • Of course, check if the clinic you're considering has been covered in a bad light by the national press. 

Individual negative experiences should not necessarily cause you to rule a particular clinic out, but they can certainly inform you — and give you inspiration for questions to ask the clinic. 

Have You Narrowed It Down? Time To Get In Touch With The IVF Clinics You're Considering!

If you're not quite willing to book in for an initial consultation, many clinics host open days or open evenings where you can have your questions answered by the clinic's staff at no cost. This can be a great way to test the waters. Regardless of the context in which you end up posing your questions to the clinic, here are some pointers that may help you. (Some of the answers will be available on the clinic's website or via the HFEA, as well, and trying to find information this way first will leave you with more time to talk about things only the clinic can answer later.)

Questions about the treatment available at the clinic:

  • How experienced are the fertility consultants in treating patients of your particular profile? (This may include a low sperm count, a particular age group, patients with a higher BMI, patients with low ovarian reserves, patients with PCOS, and so on.)
  • Do they have any restrictions in who they treat — whether this is age, low ovarian reserve, patients at risk of OHSS, patients with a higher BMI, and so on? 
  • Where relevant, does the clinic recruit its own sperm and egg donors, or bring gametes in from elsewhere? How long are the waiting times for donors, and are donors of your chosen ethnicity available?
  • Does the clinic offer in vitro maturation and so-called "natural" and "mild" IVF cycles? Would you be a good candidate for these?
  • As you start researching potential clinics in your area, you will begin coming across industry terms that relate to the incubators, cultures, genetic testing, and other specific procedures IVF clinics use over the course of your fertility treatment. Ask the clinic how their services differ from another clinic's. 
  • What is your treatment estimated to cost? Does each suggested part of your treatment truly increase your odds of getting pregnant (that is, do you really need it)?
  • How does the clinic predict your chances of successful IVF treatment?

Questions about the clinic itself: 

  • What are their opening hours, and are they open during weekends and bank holidays?
  • How soon is the clinic able to begin treatment — from the time of first contact to the start of treatment — on average?
  • What kinds of counseling are available, and how many counselling sessions are provided at no additional cost?
  • Are you able to select your own doctor from the clinic's available staff?
  • What procedures are in place to ensure that embryos are matched with the correct patient?

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