Helping people in Western Sydney become parents for almost 40 years

1 December 2023
Sydney is walking side by side with parents towards their goal of having a baby
Westmead Fertility Centre has helped thousands of couples and individuals for almost 40 years by providing high quality care at affordable prices.

Westmead Fertility Centre was pioneered by a group of gynaecologists and endocrinologists almost 40 years ago. It was their passion that drove Westmead Hospital to help make assisted reproductive technologies (ART) available in its very early days.

Since that time, many healthcare workers have trained in ART practices with the experienced team at Westmead.

“Westmead Fertility Centre is wholly owned by The University of Sydney and operates as a social enterprise," says Dr Lindsay Gillan, Chief Executive Officer of the Westmead Fertility Centre. 

"This means our operating surpluses are either retained and reinvested to purchase equipment and the latest technology, or the funds can be directed towards research.

“We have a profit for purpose agenda, and the University is focussed on research and education."

Westmead Fertility Centre’s Scientific Director Associate Professor Cecilia Sjoblom notes the clinic is in a unique position of being free to tackle the problem of infertility in ways that other clinics are not.

“We're not beholden to profit, we're focused on clinical success. We have a model where we allow science to direct our decisions, and not finances," says Associate Professor Cecilia Sjoblom.

Accessibility without the price tag

One in six couples will experience issues with infertility and it is a disease which affects men and women equally. Unfortunately, infertility treatments can be very expensive.

“We invest in our patients, research, and in modern equipment,” says Associate Professor Sjoblom.

“A recent media report found that our success rates were higher than most private IVF practices where patients may be paying almost nine times more for each cycle.

“This means we can offer a high-quality service and reach those in any socio-economic circumstances.”

Westmead Fertility Centre has been working with the NSW Government since January 2020 to deliver the Affordable IVF Initiative. A funding grant from the government has meant the centre has been able to lower the price of an IVF treatment cycle to $1,000 in out of pocket costs.

The collaboration with the NSW Government has also led to embedding a hub and spoke model of care improving access to fertility treatment for patients from across the state.

"That’s where our central location at Westmead and strong transport options are really integral,” explains Dr Gillan.

“We’re able to provide greater access across the state, where patients can have the first part of their cycle in their hometown, and then they only need to travel to Westmead for their clinical procedures that have to be done with us within the hospital setting.”

The journey to parenthood

Associate Professor Cecilia Sjoblom

Associate Professor Cecilia Sjoblom

“While all our patients share the goal of having a baby, every path is different and personal," says Associate Professor Sjoblom.

"Some patients have a definitive indication for fertility treatment such as IVF, whereas others do not.

"In some cases, pregnancy can be achieved through treatment of a hormonal imbalance, correction of a metabolic disturbance, removal of fibroids or polyps, or non-invasive ovulation induction."

Associate Professor Sjoblom can recall case after case of successful treatments that have ended with women and couples welcoming a baby.

"I can think of one patient who had numerous cycles overseas, who came to us and now has three children all made with our help," says Associate Professor Sjoblom.

"Another patient had lost over 10 pregnancies after 20 weeks. She now has two live healthy children. We created numerous embryos for another couple whose embryos failed to grow past the four-cell stage. Their daughter will be two this Christmas.

“Unfortunately, some patients come to us when they’ve run out of money. They may have accessed their available superannuation or even re-mortgaged their house after going to the more expensive clinics first.

“Our patients’ success is our team’s success. We commit to doing everything we can to help our patients to realise their dream of becoming a parent."

Team work makes a dream work

Westmead Fertility Centre’s fertility specialists in the clinical team are gynaecologists and endocrinologists, and take a holistic approach to fertility care.

The team also includes highly experienced scientific, patient support, counsellors and nursing professionals who work together with the fertility specialists to support patients in their fertility journey.

“As we are part of the University, we believe that education and training is core to everything that we do," says Associate Professor Sjoblom.

"So that's where we invest as well. A lot of our success lies in having a skilled, highly educated team that can make the clinical decisions that are needed to ensure that the patient gets pregnant.

“Our staff have spent many years gaining world-class education, and we really have a commitment to having highly educated people in our laboratories.”

Many members of the team have a long tenure. Dr Howard Smith, has been at the centre since its early days.

“Dr Smith has been the beating heart and soul of the Westmead Fertility Centre since its very beginnings,” says Associate Professor Sjoblom.

“He is altruistic and he advocates for accessible healthcare” says Dr Gillan.

The team at Westmead Fertility Centre come from a range of diverse backgrounds.

“A very diverse group of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) people come through our doors,” says Dr Gillan.

“Our team are well equipped to provide support and care in the way that people need it.”

Research with purpose

Professor Dharmintra Pasupathy

Professor Dharmintra Pasupathy

Associate Professor Sjoblom is also the Chair of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and leads one of two research streams within the Westmead-based University of Sydney Reproduction and Perinatal Centre (RPC)

The second stream is Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) which explores pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes for women.

The RPC is focused on research to understand preconception and pregnancy factors that lead to successful reproduction and pregnancy outcomes.

The knowledge gain and research outcomes from combining the expertise from both IVF and MFM teams provides huge opportunities to make true difference to care women and families receive.

This is one of very few research centres internationally that works across both these fields, explains Professor Dharmintra Pasupathy, Director of the RPC.  

Research currently being undertaken in the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility stream is looking at improving outcomes for severe male infertility.

A second project is focused on the fertilisation stage of conception and improving factors that have to do with the meiotic spindle.

“A future research project which will combine the efforts of both streams within the RPC will explore the general health status of fertility patients before coming into treatment and how that will affect the long-term health of the babies created using assisted reproductive technologies,” explains Associate Professor Sjoblom.

Dr Gillan believes the potential for the translation of research findings into the clinical services offered at Westmead Fertility Centre will provide a great benefit to their patients.

“Our intent is to feed back our operating surpluses to research, to be used on activities that have the potential to deliver benefit to our patients in the long term," Dr Gillan.

“For couples that want that much desired baby, we have the privilege of being able to help them on their journey.

"We have an opportunity to bring them joy and quite literally make people's dreams come true. It's amazing."

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