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Co-op to give staff paid leave for fertility treatments

Around 60,000 people working for the retailer will be able to access the paid support

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Co-op staff will be eligible for flexible unrestricted paid time off for fertility treatments, under a new policy the retailer has announced.

The policy supports individuals, partners and surrogates receiving and recovering from the physical and psychological effects of fertility treatment, with paid leave for up to 10 appointments per cycle and for up to three cycles of fertility treatment.

The company says it recognises the need for support, with paid time off for colleagues whose partners are undergoing fertility treatment, to enable colleagues to support their partner through treatment, regardless of how long they have worked for Co-op or the number of hours they work.

Research into fertility treatment in the workplace conducted by Co-op and YouGov has found that more than 45 per cent of people currently undertaking or who have undertaken fertility treatment whilst working did not talk to their manager beforehand about the treatment.

Additionally, more than 80 per cent of those who have had some direct, or indirect, experience with IVF treatment whilst working say a fertility treatment policy at work should be a legal requirement for all UK companies.

Shirine Khoury-Haq, CEO of the Co-op, said: “It’s incredibly difficult to navigate through fertility treatment while balancing work and the wider impact it has on your life.

“Sadly, in some cases, there is also the need to manage the physical and emotional impact of failed cycles and even pregnancy loss.

“The decision to discuss this with your employer is an incredibly difficult and personal one. However, by creating a supportive environment companies can go a long way in opening the conversation with colleagues and easing the stress that people in this situation often feel.

“Having gone through all of this myself, I felt very lucky to be in a supportive professional environment,” Khoury-Haq added.

“However, this isn’t always the case for so many people. I feel very proud that the Co-op is leading the way on launching a fertility policy and supporting our colleagues at a time when they need it most.”

Co-op is making the policy publicly available to also encourage other companies to introduce dedicated fertility treatment polices to ensure people across the UK workforce receive adequate support with fertility.

The retailer is also set to launch a specific guide for managers to help provide appropriate practical and emotional support to those going through fertility treatment, as more than 50 per cent of the people surveyed said infertility was too personal to talk about and did not feel comfortable raising it.

Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said: “I really welcome the Co-op’s leading response to fertility support for employees.

“We all recognise the pressures placed on families and individuals going through fertility treatment, and time off to support partners is such an important step forward.

“But crucially we still talk too little about these sorts of issues and I hope the Co-op is also able to create the inclusive and supportive environment that is so desperately needed.”

Fertility Matters at Work and Surrogacy UK have both welcomed the news which came at the start of this year’s National Fertility Week.

Claire Ingle, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, said: “It is inspiring when organisations such as the Co-op recognise the need to support conversations such as this one.

“Policies are a great starting point to get the ball rolling and signal to people in the organisation that their struggles are valid but there is more we can do to see significant cultural change in this arena to really make a difference for those who are faced with fertility struggles.”

Sarah Jones, Head of Surrogacy at Surrogacy UK, added: “It is wonderful to see Co-op launch such an inclusive fertility policy which takes into consideration the specific needs of those creating their families through surrogacy.

“Undertaking a surrogacy journey, either as a surrogate or as an intended parent can genuinely be made all the more positive by having a supportive employer who understands their employee’s needs.”

A number of other large UK companies, including NatWest and Centrica, have announced similar fertility policies in an effort to support staff.

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Maven Clinic launches programme for couples struggling to conceive

The programme aims to address the gap between trying to conceive and fertility treatment

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The US virtual clinic Maven has launched a health coaching programme in an effort to expand family-building options for couples struggling to conceive.

With 86 per cent of women not receiving preconception care from their family physician or OB/GYN, Maven’s Trying-To-Conceive (TTC) health coaching programme aims to support people who may be struggling and want to get pregnant without IVF.

The programme includes one-to-one support, reproductive education, ovulation tracking kits, as well as referrals to resources for mental health and nutrition.

“Maven is making sure every family can access the shortest pathway to having a healthy baby,” said Kate Ryder, Maven Clinic founder and CEO.

“We have constructed a unique model that, for the first time, aligns incentives among the stakeholders in healthcare to support people who are trying to conceive.”

To address the gap between trying to conceive and fertility treatment, Maven’s TTC Coaching service brings the benefits of health coaching to fertility care, providing members with “personalised” support and reproductive education, Ryder said. 

Dr Neel Shah, Maven Clinic’s chief medical officer, added: “While most sex education is spent teaching people how to avoid pregnancy, very little time is invested in empowering them with the guidance needed to become pregnant when they’re ready.

“Our coaching program supports couples to understand why they are struggling to conceive and in many cases helps them get pregnant without needing IVF.”

Further product enhancements the Maven team has announced include the Maven Managed Benefit platform, as well as an expansion of the company’s reproductive urology provider network for male fertility support.

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Brazilian fertility network FertGroup partners with Future Fertility to launch innovative oocyte assessment software across all clinics

The collaboration marks a significant milestone in advancing fertility care in Brazil

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FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, a dynamic network of fertility clinics in Brazil, is proud to announce its partnership with Future Fertility to introduce cutting-edge oocyte assessment software, VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™, across its expanding network of clinics.

With nine clinics currently under FertGroup ownership, the network is poised for significant growth, aiming to surpass 15 clinics within the coming year.

This expansion is a response to the escalating demand for fertility services in Brazil, a market that has seen remarkable growth (17.6 per cent CAGR compared to the global average of ~10 per cent).

Factors driving this growth include an underserved market, rising medical tourism, and evolving population dynamics emphasising the need for advanced fertility solutions.

Led by private equity investors XP Private Equity fund, FertGroup is committed to revolutionising the fertility care landscape in Brazil and beyond.

Future Fertility is the first and only AI company to offer a comprehensive and easily integratable solution to oocyte assessment for clinics around the world.

With the world’s largest oocyte dataset, the use of this software (VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™) is at the forefront of this partnership, enabling clinicians, embryologists and patients to gain broad access to AI-driven insights about oocyte quality.

Nelson Guerreiro Pestana, CEO of FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, highlighted the importance of integrating such innovative technologies: “At FertGroup, we are committed to bringing forward medical innovation that directly benefits the lives of Brazilians.

“Partnering with Future Fertility reinforces our market-leading position and reputation for excellence in fertility care.”

This technology optimises decisions regarding oocyte cryopreservation, ICSI IVF treatment approaches and oocyte donation. It also empowers patients by offering valuable insights into how their health status impacts expected fertility outcomes, helping clinics differentiate their service offering and provide a more patient-centric approach to fertility care.

Christy Prada, CEO of Future Fertility, expressed excitement about the expansion into the Brazilian market: “We are thrilled to partner with FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva in introducing Future Fertility’s innovative oocyte assessment software to Brazil.

“FertGroup is leading the market as the first network in Brazil to implement this technology, marking a significant step forward for fertility care in the region.”

Dr Edson Borges Jr, chief medical officer of FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, emphasised the significance of oocyte quality in care delivery: “As a scientific leader in the field, we believe in bringing cutting edge technology to our patients, and supporting further research into new approaches to measuring and assessing progress in fertility treatment.

“Oocyte quality is a critical aspect of fertility care, and we believe that by integrating Future Fertility’s advanced tools into our care models we will advance the science in this space and demonstrate the value of leveraging oocyte quality in decision making.”

“Integrating the Future Fertility technology into our labs has been completely seamless” remarked Maria Cecilia Cardoso, group lab director.

“We already can see the value of the workflow integration, and this was a major decision factor for us. We are excited to see the benefits this will bring to decision making, providing an objective and personalised view of quality control into the process.”

This collaboration between FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva and Future Fertility marks a significant milestone in advancing fertility care in Brazil.

The introduction of VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™ software underscores FertGroup’s dedication to innovation and patient-centric care, solidifying its position as a pioneer in the Brazilian fertility market.

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Don’t politicise fertility, leaders warn after MP’s ‘patronising’ intervention

It is worrying to see a “deeply personal” women’s health issue being debated by politicians, fertility benefits providers told Femtech World

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UK femtech leaders have warned of the dangers of playing politics with fertility services following what they call “unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful” comments from an MP. 

The Conservative MP Miriam Cates raised concerns this week that women are being exploited into freezing their eggs, claiming that “most hopeful mothers are sold a lie”.

She said she fears women are being given “false promises” by large corporations offering them money to freeze their eggs to put off having children to a later age.

However, reproductive benefits providers labelled the comments as “unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful”.

Eileen Burbidge MBE, executive director at reproductive health start-up Fertifa, said: “Policymakers should absolutely be giving more attention to protecting reproductive health access and treatment options for women, given how shamefully ignored women’s health has been for too long.

“However, characterising egg freezing in the way that Miriam Cates has recently done is unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful to women who rely upon the option to freeze their eggs whether for medical reasons, to donate to others who suffer from infertility or for their own future optionality to relieve patriarchal societal pressures of finding a life partner or starting a family.”

Far from being exploitative, employers who offer financial and wellbeing access to reproductive healthcare are responding to what their talent is asking for, Burbidge, who served on former British prime minister David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, told Femtech World.

“Data has consistently shown that women do not choose to freeze their eggs in order to work longer or prioritise their careers, but rather because they’ve yet to find a life partner and wish to not succumb to patriarchal societal pressures to do so.

“The fact that companies are supporting this will hopefully mean more women recognise the fact that the likelihood of success increases the earlier they freeze their eggs.”

Leila Thabet, UK general manager at Maven Clinic, said it is concerning to see a highly emotionally charged women’s health issue being debated by politicians and commentators with their own agendas.

“It is correct that egg freezing will not work for all women, but rather than paint an entirely bleak picture of the practice, it is vital that we empower women with facts around the procedure so they do not fall prey to exploitative clinics and operators who may not have their best interests at heart,” she said.

“At a time when data shows that women’s health care needs are still largely being neglected, it is unhelpful to dismiss the provision of women’s and family health benefits in the workplace as exploitative. This is as unhelpful as it is untrue.”

Jenny Saft, co-founder and CEO of fertility benefits provider Apryl, said there is a misconception that fertility benefits platforms offer egg freezing to keep women in the workplace.

“This is not how these programmes are designed or implemented. From my experience, it’s rare to find a company that limits its fertility benefits to egg freezing alone,” she explained.

“Typically, employers provide a comprehensive suite of fertility and family-forming options, including but not limited to egg freezing, sperm freezing, IVF, adoption, and surrogacy.”

Egg freezing has seen a sharp rise in the UK. More women than ever before are undergoing procedures, with egg and embryo freezing now the fastest growing fertility treatments in the country.

According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA), egg freezing and storage saw a 64 per cent increase in 2021 compared to 2019.

The procedure, which is not available on the NHS, is largely carried out by private clinics at a price tag of £7,000 to £8,000. Fertility benefits platforms claim to provide financial and emotional support for egg freezing, giving women more freedom over when to start a family.

“When egg freezing is offered as an employee benefit it takes away the financial burden of egg freezing,” said Dr Catherine Hill, head of policy and public affairs at Fertility Network UK.

“However, it does not remove the health risks and side effects associated with the invasive medical process, or the emotionally demanding and often upsetting nature of freezing your eggs – all of which women need to consider before making any decision.

“Because this is such a big life choice, it is vital women do not feel under any obligation from their employer to take advantage of this employee benefit.”

Although the procedure enables some women to delay motherhood until the time that is right for them, egg freezing should never be seen as a fertility insurance policy, Hill said.

She added: “Making a decision on the right time to approach parenthood or to attempt to postpone it is a very individual commitment and must be made without pressure from anyone else, including employers. Egg freezing should be about widening women’s reproductive choices on when to have a baby, not enabling a scenario where women feel forced to delay motherhood.”

Becky Kearns, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, said it is crucial that companies educate employees and empower them to make informed choices.

“While egg freezing will be seen as a huge benefit and attraction for the next generation of workforce, it needs to be balanced with information and facts to allow people to make informed choices,” she told Femtech World.

“Organisations should be supporting fertility treatment as a whole where possible, not just for those early in their careers. If the focus is solely on egg freezing there’s the risk that this may be perceived as a means to encourage employees to delay having a family, to the short-term benefit of the employer.

“This benefit on its own, without balanced information and education about outcomes and overall fertility awareness, may result in people purposely delaying having children, thinking they have a guarantee for when the time is right, when in reality it gives them a chance.

Miriam Cates has been approached for comment.

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