New one-stop shop will improve access to fertility treatment

Making it easier for people to access fertility treatment is the aim of a new pilot programme in Swansea Bay due to start this spring.

Fertility Direct will be a one-stop shop where they can be referred by their GP or contact the health board team themselves.

Currently, people having difficulty conceiving will go to their GP and then be referred to the health board’s fertility team after going through a series of consultations.

They then face a series of tests which can be time-consuming.

Tests need to be done within a given cycle and sometimes need to be repeated, which can lead to delays in treatment.

Adnan Bunkheila, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery, is introducing the project to help streamline the process.

Professor Bunkheila said: “It is like an extended specialist arm to primary care and an efficient bridge to specialist care.

“It will allow patients to access the specialist fertility service in the most efficient way.

“The population that GPs now look after tend to be older so the likelihood of seeing a young person with fertility issues is less common in some GP surgeries.

“Waiting lists become longer because there are more procedures to go through before a decision to be made.

“Covid has made us think about what we do every day and to look at how things can be done differently.

“All fertility patients need to pass through secondary care where we investigate, diagnose and treat 95 per cent of all causes of infertility.

“We can make a decision about the best way forward immediately, either to start medications, perform surgeries or initiate IVF treatment at the Welsh Fertility Institute at Neath Port Talbot Hospital.

“IVF is not the end of the road. The national success rate for IVF is about 30 per cent and those who do not conceive come back to us for further measures.”

Dr Kinza Younas , obstetrics and gynaecology consultant, said Fertility Direct will be asking GPs to signpost the service to their patients.

She said: “When patients contact us directly, we can ask all the relevant questions so we get the necessary and relevant information immediately.

“All the appropriate tests can then be organised, and an appointment set up so that we have everything we need the first time we see the patient so we can make a decision on the best way forward – in one go, at one appointment.”

Professor Bunkheila’s idea is one of several projects from Swansea Bay staff which have been accepted by the prestigious health organisation, The Bevan Foundation.

They are part of the latest Bevan Exemplars scheme, which promotes and encourages innovative projects that have helped to improve health and care for people across Wales.

It invites healthcare practitioners from all over Wales to submit project ideas which are evaluated before being developed further in practical settings.

The Bevan Commission, which is hosted and supported by Swansea University, is Wales’ leading health and care think tank.

It brings together a group of international health and care experts to provide independent, authoritative advice to the Welsh Government and leaders in Wales, the UK and beyond.

It ensures Wales can draw on best healthcare practices from around the world while remaining true to the principles of the NHS as established by Aneurin Bevan.

The design and planning of Fertility Direct is now being discussed with GPs. A pilot is due to start this spring, and it will be evaluated over a 12-month period.

Professor Bunkheila added: “It’s an idea we’ve been thinking about for a while so it’s great to see the Bevan Exemplar programme encouraging us to look at things from a different angle.

“Fertility is a fast-evolving and changing speciality. A complete referral would require two to five visits to the GP surgery for each partner.

“GPs can support the patient in so many different ways after accessing fertility services, but how the infertile patient reaches the specialist in the first place is in desperate need of change.

“With Fertility Direct, specialists’ prudent decisions are made more effectively and efficiently.”

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