Prepared by the ARCS/BFS COVID working group* on behalf of the Executive Committees of ARCS and the BFS.
Date of publication: 19th April 2021
The ARCS/BFS COVID working group notes the changing situation in regard to the pandemic in the UK, in particular since this guidance was last updated in January 2021. The NHS is implementing a vaccination programme targeting patients based on their risk of severe disease, with the aim of prevention of COVID-19 mortality and the protection of health and social care staff and systems. So far, over 32 million individuals have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and it is anticipated that by the end of July 2021 all UK adults should have been offered at least one dose. This has been associated with a significant decline in the number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19. As a result, the governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have laid out plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions to daily life. These will be implemented in a staged manner, keeping in mind the international context with increasing infection rates in several countries and the prevalence of variants for which evidence of vaccine efficacy is unclear.
BFS and ARCS are highly supportive of the use of COVID-19 vaccines in eligible patients and recognise that fertility professionals have a role in addressing vaccine hesitancy and mis-information. We draw the attention of members to patient-facing Frequently-Asked Questions produced by the two societies (Covid 19 FAQs), which may be a useful resource in this endeavour. Members are advised to remain conversant with advice issued from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists regarding various aspects of COVID-19 and pregnancy https://www.rcog.org.uk/coronavirus-pregnancy. It is also important to maintain awareness of recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which are likely to change over time.
As the national roadmaps to increase activities in the UK proceed, centres will need to review how they manage their working practices and activity. This includes decisions on patient prioritisation, in-person consultations, partner presence at procedures and stimulation and triggering protocols. In addition, staff working patterns and the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to maintain safe working practices should be kept under review. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the areas for review will vary with the individual context in which each centre operates.
The working group advises all fertility clinics to ensure they remain aware of the national and local situation and regulations in respect of COVID-19. It is appropriate for centres to perform their own risk assessments for any changes to their working practices and policies in the areas listed above. NHS centres will in addition need to ensure compliance with Trust requirements, for instance in relation to patient spacing and PPE. The measures outlined in our guidance remain relevant, but a stepwise easing within centres, combining monitoring and comprehensive risk assessment within the wider context of the relaxation of national guidance would now appear justified.
A further update of this guidance is planned for July 2021.
*The ARCS/BFS COVID working group:
Raj Mathur & Jason Kasraie (co-chairs), Gwenda Burns, Alison Campbell, Debbie Evans, Nicholas Macklon, Jane Stewart