What we learned at the Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nursing Forum conference 2021

As a registered nurse and as part of my clinical liaison role with Brilliant Beginnings, I regularly attend professional fertility sector events to ensure our whole team is fully up to date with current clinical practice and guidance. 

I attended the Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nursing Forum conference and wanted to write a brief blog to give everyone a bit of an overview of what topics were covered at this event and share some of the interesting information shared during the event. 

What the 2021 conference covered

This year’s annual conference was chaired by Francesca Steyn, and had a team of well-established fertility professionals speaking on a range of topics. These topics included Male Infertility, Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccines and the impact on fertility and early pregnancy, managing patient expectations through a global pandemic, and how we support people; clients and staff alike that have experienced trauma through this time. 

The last 18 months has been unprecedented and has had an incredible impact on our sector which is far reaching in terms of our clients, and staff. The Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nursing Forum brings all of our nursing colleagues together in order to update, reflect, and put forward ideas for change. 

What we learned at the conference

Surrogacy is small but growing

The fertility sector has a wide variety of professionals involved and is one of the fastest growing health sectors in recent years. Surrogacy is a small proportion of this, but in itself has seen massive growth in the UK of 350% over the past 12 years. 

Male fertility doesn’t quite last as long as many assume

Male infertility is a topic that isn’t spoken about enough so it was refreshing to hear Prof. Sheena Lewis (CEO, Examen) bust some myths about what this looks like. 

A few key factors here were lifestyle choices, and the massive impact that these play on sperm quality; smoking, drinking, obesity, STI’s medications, steroid use and age being the major factors. There are so few treatments to rectify this therefore ICSI would generally be used in fertility treatment to rectify this. 

Men should however, very much try to improve their sperm quality by addressing some lifestyle changes before fertility treatment is started. Another interesting area covered was age. There is a myth that men can continue on to have children indefinitely, however, it is known that sperm quality also reduces after about the age of 37, with evidence suggesting that children born to older men (50+) having increased incidences of neurodevelopmental problems. There is a divide between the age of men and women in terms of fertility health, but actually it’s not as wide as some might think; In the UK HFEA guidance advises that women can donate their eggs up to the age of 35, and men can donate sperm up to the age of 46. 

Fertility clinics are operating at 120%, and staff are in need of support

In terms of fertility clinics themselves I learned that many of them are working at 120% due to the backlog and increased demand for services. This is thought to be due to a revaluation of people’s lives in general; something the pandemic made us all do at some point over the past 18 months. 

Healthcare staff have needed extra wellbeing support, with many being redeployed to frontline services caring for the most vulnerable and sick at times of great loss. What I found really comforting was that this was being recognised, and steps are being taken far and wide to support and contain the healthcare staff that are caring for others. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for those who are pregnant

A hot topic of course was COVID-19 vaccination and what if any impact this had on fertility patients and those women already pregnant. The overwhelming evidence suggests that being vaccinated protects people from becoming severely ill. 

COVID-19 vaccination IS recommended for pregnant women, as it will significantly reduce the risk of her becoming severely ill from the virus which requires hospital treatment. Public Health England is the best place to go for evidence of real world vaccine efficacy. Some research that was shared from PHE found that 98% of women that were admitted to hospital with severe infection had NOT had the vaccine. 

Personal choice is important here, but it is also important that we direct people to the most recent evidence for individuals to make an informed choice. 

The pandemic has negatively impacted fertility patients

Fertility Network UK told us that fertility patients have reported a negative impact on their wellbeing and mental health. The global pandemic has caused delays, directly affected patients and has caused longer term issues for some in parts of the country where funding is an issue. 

COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on all of our lives for many years to come. This conference shared the struggles, the highs and the lows, and brought professionals together to share experiences so we can learn from each other, and in turn improve our patients’ experiences with the fertility sector. 

By Laura Clarke

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