Focus: IVF - What the couples say: it is unfair to dictate how we should live

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Nicola and Steven Brewer are proud parents, but only because they worked out how to play the IVF lottery. Once they realised, it affected choices about their life, including where they lived. The couple had planned to move from Wandsworth into the neighbouring south London borough of Lambeth, and then discovered that they would lose entitlement to unlimited fertility treatment.

Ten years ago, when they sought help, the couple were told by their health authority that they could have unlimited treatment under the NHS. The Brewers had 10 free IVF cycles at King's College Hospital. "We were incredibly lucky," said Nicola. "I have friends in the Midlands who can't get their treatment funded at all."

But Mrs Brewer, a 35-year-old freelance bookkeeper, and Mr Brewer, 36, a computer programmer, did not conceive, and went to Lister Hospital in Chelsea. After one cycle which cost just under pounds 2,000 she became pregnant. Zackary was born last July.

"At the Lister they used a slightly different cycle and it worked but we were treated very well by Wandsworth," she said. "Now I am not sure we would even qualify. We don't smoke, we're the right age, but I don't know about my husband's body mass! It's a good idea to make the criteria the same nationwide, but to dictate to people like this about how they live their lives is grossly unfair. It is like taking someone's baby away from them in the hospital and saying "You are too fat to take it home."

Michelle and Kevin Hutchinson paid pounds 15,000 to have baby Courtney, just because they live in Leicestershire. Mrs Hutchinson was 19 when the couple were married in 1993, but she was already desperate to have children. Mr Hutchinson already had two children by a previous marriage, but had had a vasectomy. A reversal operation was only partly successful.

After a year of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, they approached their GP in Melton Mowbray. Although both were healthy they could not have NHS- funded treatment, simply because of where they lived. Leicestershire Health Authority does not pay for any fertility treatment although it is now considering some changes to this policy. Had the couple lived in neighbouring Nottinghamshire they might have been eligible.

They opted for treatment at Care in Park Hospital, Nottingham, a private clinic, where after six years and four treatments Mrs Hutchinson became pregnant.

The couple now would almost certainly fall outside the new proposed criteria for eligibility for NHS funding. "I think it's downright cruel," Mrs Hutchinson, a hairdresser, said. "I am a size 16 which might rule me out. Fancy someone who really wants a baby being told they can't because they have to lose weight. My husband is 42 but men can father children at any age. He smokes but he doesn't smoke in the house."

Phil and Kathie Taylor are both 40 and would now not qualify for NHS- funded fertility treatment. They had their twin daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth, in December 1996 after trying both private and NHS treatment. When they first inquired about seeing a specialist, they found that there was a year-long waiting list just for a consultation on the NHS. After paying privately to see a doctor they inquired about NHS treatment. As they were under 40, they found they were eligible in the health authority area - Liverpool - but faced a three-year wait.

"We went on the waiting list but the pressure got too much," Mr Taylor said. "We reluctantly decided to pay the pounds 2,500 to receive IVF privately but it didn't work. We were devastated."

That was in 1992. Then it was back to the NHS. After 18 months they had their second session of IVF at Liverpool Women's Hospital. After that failed they waited a further six months for more treatment. Then they were suddenly told they would not be entitled to any more NHS-funded treatment.

"I was furious," Mr Taylor said. "They simply changed their funding arrangements from three to two cycles and told us bye bye. I wrote a lot of letters and they finally relented." After the third NHS-funded treatment, their fourth in total, Mrs Taylor became pregnant with the twins. Now the couple would not qualify under Liverpool's criteria because the authority has an upper age limit of 38. They dislike the suggested new national criteria. Mr Taylor said: "It's absurd. Where there is a clinical reason for denying funding for treatment, then I can understand that. But to base it on age or lifestyle is outrageous."

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