Britain's fertility services are worst

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BRITISH COUPLES get the worst deal in Europe for fertility treatment. They pay more, wait longer and have less successful treatment, according to a study.

Analysis of assisted reproduction technology that couples receive in Europe, by Dr Francoise Shenfield, of University College Hospital and Medical School, London, found that 75 per cent of British couples experiencing problems having a baby have to pay for most of their treatment.

They have to wait longer to obtain treatment, on average up to 18 months. One result is that the number of cycles each couple has to have is one of the highest in Europe because the older the woman, the harder to have a successful pregnancy.

The average for Britain is 400 IVF cycles (treatment where the egg is fertilised in the laboratory) per million of the population compared with less than 200 IVF cycles per million of the population in Belgium. The average age a woman goes to a fertility clinic in Britain experiencing problems is 30 and, because a woman's fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35, time is vital.

French couples receive the best infertility treatment service in Europe as the state pays for a couple to have up to four IVF treatment cycles. France is followed closely by Germany, where couples can have four cycles with 30 per cent paid for by the government and the rest by insurance companies.

Third is Belgium, where three-quarters of a couple's cost for infertility treatments are paid for by the state. In the Netherlands, the government pays for three cycle attempts per couple. But in Britain, three-quarters of couples pay for most of their treatment and insurance companies will not pay for IVF.

"Everybody should receive at least three attempts of fertility treatment which is paid for on the NHS," said Dr Shenfield, speaking at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Tours, France.

"At a certain level, the state has a duty to be in debt on behalf of its citizens. Infertility is a disease that requires treatment. In Britain, we are not looking after the future of our country because we are not looking after our children.

"Obtaining fertility treatment in Britain is a lottery depending on where you live. In some areas you can receive fertility treatment on the NHS but there should be an equal chance for everybody. Infertile British couples are getting the worst deal in Europe," said Dr Shenfield. "The cost to the National Health Service would be in the region of pounds 48m using current figures. However, if couples did not have to wait so long, fertility treatment would be more cost-effective. We are putting British men and women into a situation where their chance of having a baby is lower than continental European couples but costs more," she added.

In a European table of best deals, France comes first, Germany second, Belgium third, the Netherlands fourth and Britain fifth.