IVF treatment pushed into media spotlight

Is this because of the 'Britain's oldest mum' headlines? That's certainly part of it. Last weekend's news that 62-year-old Patricia Rashbrook had become the oldest woman in Britain to give birth has pushed the issue of in vitro fertilisation back up the media agenda.

What are the main media ports of call on IVF? The most obvious – outside of IVF clinics themselves – is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a statutory body that licences and monitors UK clinics and maintains a register of IVF data. It also regulates the storage of eggs, sperm and embryos.

Has PR always been important to the HFEA? Although it was set up in 1991, the HFEA did not appoint its first director of comms until 1997. Now, head of media relations John Paul Maytum has two press officers, with four PROs handling the website, newsletters and other comms.

What other PR activity is going on around IVF at present? Spink Consumer Relations has been in discussions with The Esperance, a hospital owned by BMI, to raise awareness of the services at its refurbished Sussex Downs Fertility Unit. It may use the agency to promote the fact that its IVF success rates are above the national average, and that it offers treatment for same-sex couples.

So PR involvement is rising? Anecdotal evidence suggests media enquiries to clinics are increasing, and case studies appear to be used more widely in articles as IVF ‘becomes mainstream'. The Bridge Centre, a London IVF clinic, even has what it calls a ‘media adviser' for patients who are thinking of telling their story.

Wasn't Max Clifford famously involved in an IVF story? Although Clifford's client Mandy Allwood was pregnant with octuplets, they were not the result of IVF treatment. She had been using fertility drugs. Perhaps the most high-profile IVF case was that of Diane Blood, who has had two children using her dead husband's sperm.

But IVF is nothing new? True, the world's first test-tube baby, as they were inelegantly known then, was born in 1978. But it is estimated that one in seven UK couples – approximately 3.5 million people – has difficulty conceiving. A significant minority of women in this group won't become pregnant naturally.

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