Ask The Expert

dr robert winston

Professor Robert Winston is Britain’s best-known reproductive health expert and, on a personal note, the doctor who made it possible for my mother to have my little sister. Now 73, he runs a pioneering research programme and an online Q&A for fertility patients confused by the conflicting information available. Winston has been a thorn in the side of the fertility industry in recent years, critical of the high costs and unproven treatments.

“Each week, I get dozens of emails from people who feel that they are not getting proper advice from the clinics they are attending and don’t have a clear understanding of what has been happening to them, why their treatment has failed or why they need to have a specific treatment,” he says.

Consequently he has set up an online advice service run through the Genesis Research Trust, where he offers a reliable source of information to fertility patients, who often find themselves bewildered by the mass of conflicting advice they face, particularly on the internet. Anyone can email Winston their fertility question. He wants to counter what he describes as a paucity of information about infertility and treatment. He says that with clinics keen to claim high success rates, women don’t always understand that the chance of getting pregnant from an individual IVF cycle still only stands at about 25% and that “you aren’t beating the odds until you’ve had three cycles”.

He understands the distress that infertility causes, the way it can affect every area of life, and he is concerned about some new developments where patients pay for treatments that are unproven. He gives the example of egg freezing, used by some women who are worried about their future fertility in an attempt to beat the biological clock.

“We still don’t know how many pregnancies we are likely to get from freezing eggs, and women who are storing their eggs with total confidence, believing that they are going to get pregnant in 10 years’ time, may be getting very unrealistic advice.”

Other techniques he questions include the immune treatments used in some British fertility clinics, which he says are based on poor science. He’s also concerned about pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS), in which one or two embryo cells are taken to test for abnormalities.

The idea of a source of free, trustworthy information from a leading expert in the field is bound to be attractive to patients. Winston keeps in touch with current medical practice, from research and writing papers to giving lectures and attending meetings so it is apparent that, though he may not be seeing patients in a clinic, his interest in the subject of fertility has not diminished. For patients, he remains in high regard as the best known specialist in the field so his inbox must be overflowing!

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