NHS fertility clinics will be ordered to meet their responsibilities and provide adequate levels of IVF treatment, amid growing concerns that a "postcode lottery" is stifling couples' chances of having a baby.

Ministers will contact every state-funded fertility centre in the country to remind them that guidelines recommend that the NHS offer eligible couples three cycles of IVF treatment. The intervention comes after an increasing number of NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) announced they were restricting IVF treatment – or suspending it altogether – citing budget constraints.

The Independent on Sunday revealed last month that Britain's fertility watchdog was to launch a crackdown on private IVF clinics, following claims they had been charging exorbitantly high fees and "misleading" patients about their chances of having a child. Lord Winston, one of the country's foremost fertility experts, complained about the "scandal" of clinics overcharging.

But restrictions on the availability of NHS fertility treatment has forced more couples to go private – at an average cost of £3,500 an attempt.

Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show that almost 40,000 women had IVF treatment in 2008, an increase of 8.2 per cent on 2007. The majority of treatments were in private clinics.

David Flory, the NHS's deputy chief executive, has written to all PCTs asking them to respect the guidelines. "Many PCTs have made progress in implementing the existing recommendations. I hope they can inspire those who have not yet made the same progress to move more rapidly towards implementation."

Susan Seenan, of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, said: "It is unacceptable that some PCTs are still failing to fund fertility treatment. The guidance was based on clinical, as well as cost, effectiveness."

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