A leading fertility specialist has said it is unlikely that IVF treatments will resume in Ireland before June.

Fertility clinics have been closed since the middle of last month leaving hundreds of patients in limbo.

Dr John Kennedy, Group Medical Director of Sims IVF, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the cancellation of treatment was "awful", but that it was not possible to keep clinics open and maintain social distancing.

"You can take all the precautions with regard to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but it is by no means perfect and if you have a good stockpile of PPE that should probably be in the hands of the general hospitals at this point," he said.

Around 6,000 IVF cycles are undertaken every year in Ireland.

"We generally would have (egg) transfers booked four to six weeks in advance so we had a full transfer list for April.

"That's four or five transfers a day, five days a week. We are having to cancel all of them on a rolling basis so the numbers are mounting up all the time," Dr Kennedy explained.

He said Sims, like other clinics around the country, are still carrying out video consultations and responding to patient queries. However, no clinical procedures are being undertaken.

The initial decision to stop treatment came following advice from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) on 15 March.

The ESHRE recommendation was based on concerns over the impact of Covid-19 on early pregnancy, however, many IVF patients felt their personal choice was being taken away.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, a woman, who did not want to be named, said: "We have been treated like brood mares. I feel as though my rights, my liberty has been taken away.

"I do not have autonomy over my own body, my own reproductive system. It is abhorrent."

Dr Kennedy described the timeline for reopening clinics as the "million dollar question".

"My gut is telling me nothing good is going to happen in April, it is unlikely something will happen in May, but certainly after that if all the clinics are still closed really everything is going to start to struggle an awful lot."

Caitriona McPartlin, Chief Operating Officer of the ReproMed clinics in Dublin and Galway, said they were attempting to establish protocols to continue to treat patients.

"Once we know that we can open safely following the guidance of the Department of Health, we will do so," she said.

Dr Kennedy said that "in the fullness of time" clinics may have to "live with" additional risks.

"A lot of women that we have are on the clock and as months go by and people get older statistical chances of success drop and that's a terrible thing," he said.

Denise Phillips from Newbridge, Co Kildare, was just about to start a cycle of IVF when she was told the treatment could not proceed.

"It was a big shock because you mentally build yourself up so much that when somebody tells you that you can't go ahead it is just devastating. Beyond devastating."

Denise and her husband, Mark, have a five year-old daughter from a previous IVF treatment and had hoped to expand their family this year.

"I had an initial consultation and was going in to start my scans, get my medication and start our journey but then I got a phone call saying that all IVF cycles were postponed or cancelled.

"Obviously, the Government has to do things that are right, but it's awful for somebody to take away your chance after all that's already been taken from you. What happens if this is around for a long time?"

Denise said that fertility patients are suffering "huge anxiety".

"Their families don't know they are having treatment and they are in isolation. They don't want to leave the house in case they pick up something and then won't be able to get treatment once the clinics reopen. Everyone's mind is racing."

Once fertility services resume, there are concerns over a potential backlog of patients. However, Dr Kennedy said plans are being made to increase opening hours and treatment capacity.

He said: "We are retaining staff and holding on to people so when it comes time to hit the ground running we are in a position to do so.

"It is in everyone's interest to reopen. It will be all hands to the pump."