Fertility services will be able to resume in the UK within the next fortnight almost two months after treatments were halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the decision on Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “delighted” and assured that strict guidelines would “ensure staff and patients remain safe”.
Clinics across the country can now apply to resume services from 11 May, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), as long as safety and protection of staff and patients can be ensured.
Guidance for reopening is currently being drawn up by NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners, and will be given to all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the country.
Such requirements will include social distancing being observed in waiting rooms and personal protective equipment (PPE) being supplied.
Telephone appointments could also replace some face-to-face meetings, if suitable, while an auditing tool will ensure these measures are being followed.
Later this week, Mr Hancock is due to write to CCGs to find out if they will be able to restart treatment – whether through an NHS clinic or private service – “to ensure fair provision”.
It comes after the Department of Health and Social Care acknowledged that while private clinics may be able to reopen quickly, it may take a little longer for NHS services to reach the requirements stipulated in the guidelines due to staff being redeployed.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Mr Hancock said he understood “just how time-sensitive treatment can be and how important it is for the families affected”.
He added: “And I know that this treatment can change lives for the better forever.
“So when I say thank you for all of you, everybody watching, for staying at home to protect the NHS of course I’m saying thank you on behalf of the lives that you’re saving.
“But I’m also saying thanks on behalf of the lives that the NHS can now once again help to create.”
Meanwhile, Sally Cheshire, the chair of HFEA, said she was “pleased” that clinics would be able to apply to resume services, acknowledging that the closures have been “extremely distressing” for patients.
She added: “This will be good news for those wanting to resume treatment and have the opportunity to try for their much longed for family.”
Geeta Nargund, lead consultant for Reproductive Medicine at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, said she was also “delighted” that services could soon be restarted.
She added: “We thank the government for recognising the distress faced by thousands of women and couples across our nation and acting swiftly to help them.
“We must ensure that effective social distancing and safety measures are put in place so that we can not only help save lives but start creating lives again.”