Meet the expert who has literally seen it all! 

When all you want is your wishes of a pregnancy granted you start to look further afield but the treatment you experience and cost is often the last thing on your mind. Dr Caroline Phillips tells us the best ways to find the perfect answers to fertility abroad that should take the weight of your shoulders and aid you to get the best out of your abroad treatment.

As more and more people leave starting a family until later in life, infertility is becoming an ever growing concern. One in six couples have either experienced fertility problems themselves, or know someone who is having difficulty conceiving. In the UK, we face a potential fertility crisis as demand for treatment increases and the NHS struggles to keep pace. With fewer egg and sperm donors, inconsistent levels of NHS funding and the cost of private treatment on the rise, an increasing proportion of couples are looking beyond our borders for affordable fertility treatment options.

Having your treatment abroad comes with many advantages, not least providing an affordable option, access to new and innovative procedures, as well as higher success rates – but as with any major decision in life, it is important to consider the risks and unique challenges of today’s ‘fertility tourist.’


Calculating costs

Undergoing IVF, whether at home or abroad, can be an expensive process, so you need to have an accurate picture of all your expenses before committing to anything.

Always take the time to calculate additional expenses such as medical insurance, flights, accommodation and living expenses before you leave. If you are taking time off work, this may result in a loss of earnings for the period you are away. Also remember, most clinics will expect you to have undergone tests before your trip - mammograms, sperm analysis, HIV – so make sure you find this out before your trip. Clinics will charge extra to have these tests done on site. Watch out for hidden costs – for example, if you have surplus embryos which can be frozen, check to see if freezing them is included in your treatment price. If you are having IVF treatment, you will require sedation and time in theatre. Make sure you find out if this is included in the overall price.

Also seek out any cost saving opportunities – for example, it’s worth having a look for clinics that offer a ‘shared risk programme’ to mitigate possible failures. For example, some may allow you to pay for two cycles, and if they don’t work, offer the third round for free. At the very least this could save you some money.

How to spot the bad eggs

The vast majority of clinics in Europe offer a first rate service. However, as with any medical based service industry, there are always exceptions, so it’s important to be able to spot these.

Poor communication is a tell-tale sign that service levels are below par – if a clinic is slow at replying, supplies insufficient information, does not follow up or fails to take the time to translate, you should be wary.

You should also ask the clinic for their embryo transfer policy. It is a blatant disregard for the welfare of mother and baby if too many embryos are transferred simultaneously, leading to multiple pregnancies. Some clinics do this to bump up their success rates, but it can be dangerous and should be avoided.

Avoid clinics that ask for the full payment up front – the usual practice is to pay an instalment, followed by the remaining balance post embryo transfer.


What does success actually mean?

Understanding success rates can be a daunting and confusing process, but is an important part of selecting the right clinic. The first step is to understand the various ‘success rate’ terminologies commonly used by clinics – armed with this, you will have a clearer understanding of what ‘success’ actually means. Here is a guide to the more common terms and phrases:

Clinical pregnancy: this means that a foetal heartbeat has been detected at usually 6-7 weeks within the gestational sac . The success rate is described as the number of clinical pregnancies per 100 cycles.

Chemical pregnancy: this is when the hormone indicators of early pregnancy have been detected. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin or HCG, is secreted by the placental cells of the embryo. As their number increases, so does the level of HCG. Measuring this hormone level is an indicator of the health of the pregnancy as the level should double every 48 hours in early pregnancy. The chemical success rate is the number of pregnancies per 100 cycles (either initiated, aspirated or embryo transfer cycles).

Live birth rate: the number of live babies that are delivered per 100 cycles (as described above). This rate is usually much lower than the clinical pregnancy rate as unfortunately some pregnancies result in miscarriage.

Cumulative pregnancy rate: Some clinics describe a cumulative pregnancy rate. This is a fresh cycle followed by one or more frozen cycles with the surplus embryos if available. It will be higher than a pregnancy rate achieved just with a fresh cycle. It is worth understanding the difference and it might be something to ask the clinics about when you contact them. Travelling abroad for your treatment is a great way to save money and access wonderful new treatments, but it’s worth bearing in mind the down sides. The more you are aware of them, the better you can prepare for your experience.

Being away from your support network in an unfamiliar place can be a difficult prospect, especially if things don’t go well. Always have someone on hand you can call on while you are away.

Always find the time to take a break when you can – if you can afford it, take a few days away from things – stay in a nice hotel, go and see the sights, give yourself the chance to unwind and relax. Remember your wellbeing can have a direct impact on the success of the treatment, so try to keep fit, healthy and happy!