'Most women would move for NHS IVF'

Two thirds of women would consider moving house to access IVF on the NHS, according to research.

Many have suffered fertility problems or know someone who has, while others have experienced depression and financial issues as a result of infertility, it found.

The report, for She magazine, was based on a poll of 1,000 readers.

Some 80% knew of at least one couple who had had problems conceiving, while one in four had visited their GP to discuss fertility concerns.

A fifth had experienced financial difficulties through needing treatment, or knew someone who had, while more than one in three had suffered depression as a result of problems conceiving.

A similar number said infertility had caused a strain on their relationship with their partner, or they had witnessed friends experiencing issues while trying to conceive.

In 2004, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) said the NHS should fund three free cycles of IVF for women aged 23 to 39.

A Department of Health survey from 2009 showed 30% of health trusts offered three cycles, 23% two cycles and 47% one cycle.

However, since then there have been widespread reports of trusts slashing funding for IVF, with more cuts expected this year.

A survey by Pulse magazine last year found one in five of all primary care trusts (PCTs) had cut funding for IVF in the previous three years and eight PCTs had not funded any IVF treatment for two years.

Clare Lewis-Jones, from the Infertility Network support network, said couples living in England still struggled to access IVF, unlike in Scotland, where trusts are told to fund three cycles.

In England, more than 150 PCTs make their own decisions on whether to fund the treatment.

"Funding for IVF in Scotland is stable and nearly everybody gets three cycles if they need them, and have done for a long time," she said.

"If people are staying in England, then moving would not guarantee them treatment - they could move and then find out the next day that their PCT has stopped funding IVF.

"Whichever way patients turn, they have no guarantees of even being able to try the treatment that gives them the only chance of having a family.

"Couples should not have to face that added pressure as well as dealing with infertility.

"Nice based its guidelines of three free cycles on the fact that this gives couples the best chance of having a baby.

"For many PCTs it's a very low priority - it's not seen as an illness despite the World Health Organisation recognising infertility as a disease."

Ms Lewis-Jones said she believed PCTs would continue to see IVF as a low priority unless the Government put pressure on them to fund it.

And she said for many couples "NHS is simply not an option purely because of their postcode.

"This is a totally cruel, unjustifiable and unacceptable situation which simply must end, and end quickly before it is too late for those affected and they face a life without children which for many is too awful to contemplate."

She magazine has launched a "Fairtility" campaign and is encouraging women to sign a petition at http://www.allaboutyou.com/shefairtility.

Editor Claire Irvin said: "Whenever we run a story in She magazine about infertility or IVF, we are overwhelmed by the candid and emotional letters and emails we receive from desperate couples who are reluctant to speak out about their treatment as infertility is such a private subject.

"It is something that affects tens of thousands of women across the UK - including members of our own team and should be given the priority it deserves."

In January, David Flory, deputy NHS chief executive, wrote to PCTs reminding them they should have regard to the Nice guidelines.

Nice is currently reviewing them but will not publish its findings until 2012.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The local NHS decides on the funding of fertility treatments such as IVF.

"They make these decisions based on the health priorities of their local population.

"Current Nice guidelines recommend that the NHS provides up to three cycles of IVF for eligible couples.

"Our recent letter to the NHS reinforces how important it is for PCTs to take account of these guidelines."

Professor Lorraine Culley, from De Montfort University, said: "The failure of the NHS to provide fertility treatment in a fair and equitable manner causes great distress for many couples.

"In our research into why people travel abroad for fertility treatment, we found that the high cost of private treatment in the UK is one reason why increasing numbers of people are seeking treatment overseas, where costs may be significantly lower than the UK.

"Although most people in our study were broadly satisfied with their treatment in Spain or the Czech Republic, for some, having to travel for treatment may add further stress to an already difficult process."

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