Lesbians denied fertility treatment claims Stonewall

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Lesbians are still being denied fertility treatment despite a new law removing the need for a father, a campaign group said today.

The claim by Stonewall follows a survey using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which suggests same sex couples are being turned down on the grounds that funding is only available for women with fertility problems.

A total of 38 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) out of 152 in England responded to the survey by the Press Association, along with three of Scotland's 14 territorial health boards and the Health Commission Wales.

The survey asked how many lesbian couples had received or had been refused treatment over the last five years and the policy reasons for any refusal.

None released any record of lesbian couples receiving NHS-funded fertility treatment while two PCTs were "pending" decisions for two females in same sex relationships.

In total, seven PCTs said they had rejected applications from lesbian couples for fertility treatment.

A total 21 PCTs as well as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde did not record sexual orientation so could not provide the data.

Seven PCTs and two Scottish health boards said they had neither funded fertility treatment nor refused it to lesbian couples.

One PCT refused to release the information, stating it breached confidentiality rules, while the Health Commission Wales did not answer the questions but referred to its policy of treating "sub-fertile" women.

The survey coincides with the amended Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which came into effect on Thursday, which replaces the 'need for a father' requirement with a recognition that children need 'supportive parenting'.

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall's head of policy and research, said: "If challenged the PCT could turn around and state the need for a father, so up until now we have never been able to challenge the status quo.

"Other PCTs have now turned around and said they will only treat infertile women.

"The NHS has not developed a structure to enable lesbians to seek treatment because it is a model for infertile heterosexual women therefore lesbians are never going to be able to benefit from the treatment they pay their taxes for."

Gay rights' campaigner Peter Tatchell called it "institutional discrimination".

"Refusing to treat women unless they have fertility problems is institutional discrimination against lesbian women because mostly they are not seeking to remedy medical problems," said Mr Tatchell.

Dudley PCT was one of the trusts considering a request from a lesbian couple made in 2009 to 2010.

Its policy states that same sex couples must show proven "sub-fertility" and if one partner has fertility problems but the other partner is fertile, treatment could be refused.

It adds: "NHS funding will not be available for access to insemination facilities for fertile women who are not in a partnership or are part of a same-sex partnership."

A number of trusts deem lesbians to be subfertile if they have at least ten documented "non-stimulated" inseminations with no live birth, or if they have proven fertility problems.

Other trusts refused treatment on the grounds that it was impossible to apply to same sex couples the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) definition of infertility - failure to get pregnant after two years of regular unprotected sex.

Ms Hunt called for clinics to differentiate between Donor Insemination (DI), where sperm is placed in the neck of the womb, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), where it is placed in the uterus, and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), or so-called "test tube" babies, where egg cells are fertilised by sperm outside the womb.

"If they realise IUI is a very simple procedure and very different to IVF then clinics could more readily offer treatment to same sex couples because most couples don't need IVF they need IUI," she said.

"What you are doing is basically replicating having sex for a long time and proving fertility."

She expressed doubt over the response of 21 trusts that said they did not keep records of sexual orientation.

"The NHS should be recording sexual orientation so they can monitor the extent to which lesbians and gay men are taking up services," she said.

"This is one area more than any other which the NHS would know the gender of the people seeking treatment."

One lesbian couple, who did not wish to be named, were refused treatment by NHS Bournemouth and Poole which said it did not keep records of sexual orientation.

"Data such as sexual orientation should be recorded to monitor and ensure fair and equal access to treatment," said the 33-year-old.

"It sticks in my throat that I am an invisible statistic and it makes me wonder how many other lesbian couples have been refused treatment but their case goes unreported."

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which also did not record sexual orientation, was forced to back down in the treatment of one lesbian couple earlier this year.

It initially refused Caroline Harris and Julie McMullan IVF treatment because they were not classified as an infertile couple.

But they threatened to sue because Ms Harris had tried six intrauterine insemination treatments at a private clinic and IVF treatment, all without success.

The health board reviewed its position in light of the Equality Act and offered the couple NHS treatment to help them have a baby.

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