Andrew Coutts is one of the world’s top experts on fertility travel, that is the act of travelling from one country to another in search of treatments which will help patients realise their dream of becoming parents. Andrew has dedicated the last decade to travel, visiting over 150 clinics worldwide and helping thousands of fertility patients to achieve this dream. Clínica Tambre is proud to have worked closely with Andrew and his business, the International Fertility Company (IFC) throughout this period. Here, Andrew answers some questions about the pandemic and its effects on international patients.
Q: As a transnational fertility expert, how do you think the pandemic has affected people who wanted to (or were already) travelling to another country for treatment?
For the majority of patients thinking about travel or those in the process of treatment the pause button has been firmly pressed. Travel restrictions, border closures and quarantine procedures have effectively ensured that most patients have not been able to access the treatment they need. We conducted a fertility travel survey during the first lockdown in 2020, the largest ever undertaken and patients answered with total support and commitment for travel once it was safe to do so. The overriding response was that the pandemic had frustrated patients’ desire to seek treatment abroad rather than to put them off forever. I have no doubt therefore that when unlimited travel is possible international fertility clinics will see unprecedented demand from patients anxious to access treatment as soon as possible.
Q: What do you think are the main emotions that patients have felt during this time?
The feedback we get from patients understandably is that they are frustrated, sad, angry and hugely disappointed by delays caused by the pandemic. As there are differences in the way each country is managing border and quarantine rules some have already seen uptakes in international demand whilst others face a longer wait. During this time patients have sought alternative travel arrangements, often crisscrossing borders to avoid delays and quarantines and others are travelling further to countries where access isn’t a problem. As the pandemic has gone on patient feelings of frustration and anger have been replaced with a determination to access treatments at all costs.
Q: Andrew, what do you think assisted reproduction clinics have had to do to reassure their patients?
The response from reproduction clinics in general has been fantastic. Many embraced online technology and communication very early on and we witnessed an explosion of live online presentations and consultations. The good clinics recognised that patients were suffering a lot of emotional distress and therefore invested a lot in creating resources to help those frustrated and upset by their inability to travel. Clinics like Tambre also used the down time to develop policies and protocols designed to ensure the safety of both staff and patients as well making physical changes to the clinic environment and upgrading facilities. Throughout the various lockdowns clinics have been communicating with existing and prospective patients, reassuring them their experience at the clinic will be safe and secure and I think patients have really appreciated that level of communication and shared information.
Q: What makes a clinic attractive to international patients?
Clinics have to provide a good service in the native language of their patients first and foremost. Effective communication leads to confidence so that is the essential, first starting point. Transparency, honesty and experience follow – fertility patients who consider travelling are well researched and can generally see through clever marketing techniques including the manipulation of statistics and success rates. Good clinics are confident clinics, they are not afraid to put their prices online; they are keen to share the expertise offered by their teams and offer a range of activities where patients can meet the people responsible for their care (online and where possible face to face). Clínica Tambre is a perfect example of how best to offer an international service to patients. Led by a CEO who is herself a former patient with a decade of experience of running successful international clinics, the clinic is a model that every international clinic should aspire to.
Q: What is the current relationship between the UK and Spain in terms of travel? Is it possible? Are there any conditions?
Non essential travel between the UK and Spain is not recommended at present. Medical treatment, including IVF procedures are considered ‘essential’ and as such are permittable. The caveat is that patients have to provide a clear PCR test up to 72 hours before leaving and entering the UK and take two additional tests on days 2 and 8 after returning. Finally returning travellers will also have to quarantine for 10 days. I agree that for many the additional cost of PCR tests and having to quarantine is prohibitive but for many whose treatments have been on hold for over a year or those wishing to start treatment as soon as possible it is a price they are willing to pay. Hopefully as the vaccine roll out in both countries continues this whole process will become a little less complicated!
Q: The International Fertility Company and Tambre have been working together for a long time , helping international patients create families. What more could the clinic do to reassure patients who are considering travelling again?
We are proud of the relationship we have built with Tambre and can share with confidence the experience and expertise offered by all departments within the clinic. Our collaboration means that we can help patients contact the appropriate person within the clinic if required and we can speak authoritatively about the care and treatments available. For the moment the clinic is doing a great job of both reassuring and communicating with patients. I would advise that you keep up the telehealth work you are doing, providing online talks and consultations; continue to help prepare patients for travel by facilitating pre travel tests in their own country and maintaining your visibility for prospective patients. As we speak the UK Government are assessing the quarantine rules for people who have had two vaccinations; if the need for quarantine is removed this will be another step towards normality. Each step forward will be a step closer to patients returning to Tambre in larger numbers than ever before.
Andrew Coutts is the CEO of the International Fertility Company which provides free, independent advice for anyone considering travelling for fertility treatment. He is also PhD Researcher on male factor fertility at the Centre for Reproductive Research at De Montfort University in the UK.