Patients weep as IVF clinic closes

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Hundreds of women undergoing in vitro fertilisation treatment at a London hospital fertility unit were left in tears yesterday when the hospital's medical school suddenly announced the unit was to close.

Patients arrived at the unit at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south- west London, to be told it would shut at the end of March.

It is thought that at least 300 patients use the clinic. For many of the unit's older patients it could signal the end of their last chance of conceiving under the IVF programme.

According to patients at the clinic there were scenes of near panic as they arrived yesterday morning.

Staff in tears had to inform patients, some of whom have been waiting years to have a child, that the unit was to close.

For many of the patients, time to have a child is running out. One patient, Ellen Selkirk, has been waiting three years to conceive through an IVF programme. Although she is in her late-20s, her husband is over 40 and so they are increasingly desperate to have a child.

She said the atmosphere at the clinic yesterday was extremely upsetting. "We just walked in as normal and we were met by the staff who were in tears," she said.

"They said they had been told the clinic was closing and they should pick up their P45s when it shuts.

"If I fall pregnant then I'll be one of the lucky ones, but if not then I'll have to start the treatment from scratch somewhere else because you are not allowed to carry your notes over to another clinic. I'm relatively young, but there are a lot of women there in their 40s.

"One of the things about this clinic that is so good is that it is a self-funding unit - it relies on the patients' contributions - which is why people like me can afford it.

"If I had to go somewhere else I couldn't afford it."

The medical school said last night the unit had been closed because it had failed to turn out the level of academic teaching and research expected of it. A spokeswoman said the decision had been taken after a lengthy consultation since fears were first raised last year over how much research was originating from the clinic. "It was felt that the unit was providing an inadequate level of academic teaching and research, which is the primary function of the medical school," she said.

"However, in order to ensure the continuing welfare of patients, the medical school has taken steps to arrange that patients undergoing treatment currently will be transferred to other units."

The assisted conception unit at King's Health Care (an NHS trust at King's College Hospital in Dulwich, south London) has agreed to accept displaced patients from the medical school who have already started IVF programme and require completion of their treatment.

The medical school has also said it will cover the cost of treatment for those patients who have already paid for treatment at St George's.

The director of the clinic, Dr Rashmi Varma, was unavailable for comment last night.