'Postcode lottery' remains for couples seeking help on IVF

One in 70 babies born in the UK are conceived artificially but NHS services cannot keep up

Couples seeking to start a family using IVF treatment still face a postcode lottery in obtaining help on the NHS, new figures reveal today.

Fresh evidence uncovering huge disparities in the help given to aspiring parents across Britain showed that more than 80 per cent of primary care trusts (PCTs) are still failing to meet official guidelines on providing IVF treatment, introduced five years ago. Two PCTs even refused to provide any IVF treatment last year, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Guidelines introduced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) in 2004 said patients should be offered a full three cycles of IVF treatment.

About 40,000 cycles of IVF treatment are performed in Britain each year, but with a single cycle costing PCTs as much as £5,000, thousands of couples are turned down. As many as three-quarters of the couples who undergo IVF each year are forced to resort to the private sector.

One in 70 babies born in the UK are now conceived artificially.

Patients in the East Midlands were found to be currently limited to one full cycle of the treatment. In London, a little over a quarter of PCTs said they funded the full three cycles.

An eighth of the 80 per cent of PCTs who provided information also failed to meet national guidelines on the age limit for treatment. Two-fifths of South-east PCTs admitted they did not provide IVF to all women aged 23-39, in breach of Nice guidelines. More than half also said they excluded couples in which one partner already had a child from a previous relationship.

Patients under the care of North Staffordshire PCT are still refused any IVF treatment, with officials within the trust blaming a budget squeeze. "We commission services within allocated funds based on priorities set to meet the needs of our local population," a spokesman said. "We will continue to review IVF along with all our service developments."

North Lincolnshire PCT refused to provide any treatment until this year, but now limits help to women aged between 37 and 39.

PCTs in Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, restricted access to treatment to women over the age of 36, despite most medical experts estimating that the chances of conceiving through IVF fall by up to 35 per cent after the age of 35.

Government advisers have already urged ministers to force PCTs to do more for patients needing IVF treatment. Last year, the Expert Group on Commissioning NHS Infertility Provision said fertility care was still "viewed as a relatively low priority".

Grant Shapps, the Tory MP who carried out the research and whose three children were born following IVF treatment, said it was clear that a postcode lottery remained in place.

"Budgets are tight and the NHS must set its priorities, but it is wrong to raise expectations in couples who are desperate to start a family only for them to find out later that they won't get the real help they expected," he said. "Going through IVF is mentally and physically exhausting enough without these additional pressures."

Last night, PCTs came under renewed pressure to improve IVF provision. Nice urged trusts to offer three cycles of treatment "as quickly as possible". PCTs also came under pressure from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which demanded "fair access" to fertility services. "We would encourage all primary care trusts to follow the Nice clinical guidelines including the provision of three full cycles of treatment," an HFEA spokeswoman said.

Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said that a "totally unjustifiable and unfair variation" in IVF provision remained in place across Britain. "It is totally unacceptable that patients are denied treatment simply because of where they live or on the basis of their age, or indeed whether or not they fit the various definitions of 'childlessness' adopted by the PCTs."

A Department of Health spokesman said that the Government's own survey revealed that the NHS was "making good progress in implementing Nice guidelines and in providing fair and consistent access to IVF".

He added: "The option to become a parent is something most of us expect to have. People who cannot conceive naturally should have access to NHS treatment, just as they would for any other clinical need."

Case study: 'To punish would-be mums seems incredibly cruel'

Gary Smith, 35, and his wife Dana, 36, began their application for IVF treatment with few problems. But at the eleventh hour, were told they were ineligible because he already had a child from a previous relationship.

"It caused a lot of emotional turmoil for my wife. She thought she was being unfairly punished, and you can imagine the dynamic of the situation. My wife is the most wonderful person in the world, but for her not to feel resentful was very, very challenging. To punish the would-be mum seems incredibly cruel."

Gary realised that they would have to move home to stand a chance of being granted a cycle of IVF treatment and began to research the differing criteria used across Britain.

"We haven't got the sort of cash to afford private treatment," he said. "I went from PCT to PCT. The criteria varied hugely. In some we were eligible for one cycle, others for three, and some for none."

He drew up a shortlist of locations from which he could commute to his work in Essex, and his wife could continue working in London. "It was a done deal really. I even got to the stage of telling my daughter, that Dana and I were going to have to move away," he said. But just before they sold up, their luck turned.

"Suddenly, our PCT said it was changing its criteria and that we would be eligible. The happy ending is that we've got our first appointment at the end of August."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace