The Government has announced changed to the regulations around the freezing of eggs, sperm and embryos. This means that more people will have more choices about when and how to start a family.
An overhaul of fertility rules means that the sperm, eggs and embryo freezing limit – the amount of time they will be stored – is set to increase to 55 years. The current limit of 10 years. After this, a decision must be made whether to undergo fertility treatment or destroy the cell. Doctors are currently arguing that this limit is too restrictive. This change of the rules is welcome and means that the statutory storage limit will no longer be governed by medical need.
The extension of reproductive freezing: explained
There are two types of egg freezing – social and medical. As a woman ages, her fertility declines, her chances of conception decrease and her eggs are also more susceptible to chromosomal damage. Surgically collecting and freezing your eggs when you’re younger means you have a higher chance of having a live birth when you are ready, if you choose to have those frozen eggs defrosted and implanted in a treatment cycle. This is called social egg freezing.
In certain circumstances, offering egg freezing may be an option. For example, women who have been diagnosed with some types of cancer or individuals who are wanting to preserve their fertility before undergoing gender confirmation surgery. These treatments may affect fertility. This is known as medical egg freezing.
Until now, the time limit for eggs that are frozen for social reasons has been 10 years. For people whos e eggs are for medical reasons the age limit for keeping them in storage is 55 years.
Says Francesca Steyn, Director of Fertility services and current Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nurses Forum: “Increasing that storage time for social egg freezing gives people more choices. It’s great news the Government has announced its intention to scrap the limits so anyone can freeze their eggs for up to 55 years. This also applies to the freezing of sperm and embryos, regardless of a person’s reasons for freezing them”.
Who is responsible for these changes?
These changes are the result of a 2020 public consultation in response to a campaign by the Progress Educational Trust. Thus organisation informs debate on assisted conception and genetics.
Thanks to PET’s two-year #ExtendTheLimit campaign the Government announced it is effectively proposing to abolish the distinction between ‘medical’ and ‘non-medical’ reasons for freezing. This is allowing all patients to renew consent for the storage of eggs, sperm or embryos every 10 years, for up to 55 years overall.
What are their reasons?
One reason it makes sense to make this change is the improvement in egg freezing technology. The Department of Health & Social Care said the proposed changes have been made possible as a result of “the latest freezing methods”. “Evidence shows frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration. This is due to a new freezing technique called vitrification, and changes reflect the increasing success of using frozen embryos in routine in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.”
Says Francesca “In the past slow freezing methods were used, and the success rates were not great. But this has improved with vitrification, a faster freezing method. It’s important, however, to point out eggs are still very delicate, and still may not survive the freezing process. Extending the storage period is giving people being affected more more options.”
Says Francesca: “A lot of work has gone into pushing this campaign through by those in the fertility sector. It means a lot more people are going to be able to have fertility treatment. In the past, people who had frozen their eggs at 30 were having to use them by the time they hit 40 or throw them away. For people in this situation it has meant having to have some difficult conversations and decisions”.
What this means for employers
Fertility support will no longer just be needed for rising talent. Now, employees will be able to start or grow their families later in life. “Employers will see an increase in the number of people having fertility treatment. Therefore, more people will be needing time off for appointments and for treatment cycles. There’s going to be much more of a need for fertility support for the workforce across the board. Meanwhile for someone who already had eggs in storage and was perhaps thinking they’re not going to have time to use them, the prospect of being able to have IVF in a few years’ time, at a time to suit them, has become a reality,” says Fran.
Inevitably, this will mean more of your workforce are likely to have questions about fertility treatment and egg freezing. Employers can support their people by providing education and awareness for colleagues and managers, with the help of the experts at Peppy.
How employers can take action to support their people
You can best help your employees considering or going through egg-freezing by empowering them with the right information. Support them at all stages of their fertility journey. Ensure you have a fertility policy in place.
“There will be much more of a need to have an HR fertility policy that’s inclusive and flexible. You just don’t know who in your workforce may need support. It’s not just women of a reproductive age anymore. It’s everyone,” says Fran.
If you haven’t yet created a fertility policy, now would be a good time to start. The number of companies drawing up fertility policies is still small, but the impact is already significant. Magic circle firm Clifford Chance has enhanced its medical scheme. It will provide up to £15,000 for fertility investigations and treatment. Earlier this year, Clifford Chance announced it had partnered with Peppy. It updated its private medical scheme after discovering there had been significant interest in the fertility strand of Peppy’s platform.
You can complement this with specialist fertility support on Peppy. Peppy Fertility programmes start every Monday. You can choose from four 6-week courses designed to boost a woman’s chances of success on her fertility journey – exclusive to Peppy users. For more details and to sign up go to https://peppyhealth.typeform.com/to/mEe2Eo1S
And bear in mind the fertility support and information you offer your staff shouldn’t only apply to people going through IVF. It’s also for people who are considering their options with regard to their future family plans.
- Medical need will no longer be governing statutory storage limit.
- More of your workforce will need fertility support and information.
- There’s never been a better time to draw up a company fertility policy.
This welcome change to the regulations around the freezing of eggs, sperm and embryos means more people will have more options about whether and when to use fertility treatment and start a family.