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Postcode Lottery: IVF on the NHS

Today a plethora of news stories have been published off the back of a report issued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility. The report describes the UK wide breaches of National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines about the funding of IVF on the NHS.

More than 70% of primary care trusts (PCT's) are ignoring guidance published in 2004 to offer infertile couples three free cycles of IVF where the woman is aged 23 to 39. Five NHS trusts - Warrington, West Sussex, Stockport, North Yorkshire and York, and North Staffordshire - do not provide IVF at all.

Women in some areas of Wales have to wait till they are 38 and a half years old before qualifying for treatment and must quickly complete their two free allotted cycles by the time they are 40. This is of particular concern as success rates for IVF decline sharply with age.

Other age restrictions are: 

  • Bury PCT offers IVF to women aged 39 or 40,
  • Milton Keynes and Hampshire offers IVF to women aged 30 to 34
  • Bournemouth and Buckinghamshire offers IVF to women aged 30 to 35.

I presume this action is taken by PCT's in order to save money in an already overstretched NHS. However, this seems to be forgetting the impact that infertility has on the mental health of couples. In understand that on some grounds IVF may be unlikely to be successful and in those circumstances it may be reasonable to carefully consider the cost implications for continuing with treatment which unlikely to yield results. However, I have read today that if one partner has a child from a previous relationship then this would be grounds to deny access to NHS IVF treatment. This seems absurd. The private cost of IVF is £3,500 a cycle.

More than 12,000 IVF babies are born in the UK each year, with the first being born 33 years ago in the Royal Oldham Hospital, Greater Manchester.  I think given the impact that IVF can have on the wellbeing of couples the provision should be extended not restricted. NHS fertility clinics will soon be ordered to meet their responsibilities. Ministers will contact every state-funded fertility centre to remind them that guidelines recommend that the NHS offer eligible couples three cycles of IVF treatment. I hope this has a positive impact and this all-important resource can be utilised by all those in need.

At JMW we have acted for women who have become infertile as a result of medical negligence and have been able to obtain compensation to pay for IVF.

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