Priority urged for treatment of infertility: Couples often dealt with in 'shoddy and rotten' way by NHS, campaigners say

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The Independent Online
THE TREATMENT of infertility should be put before therapy for advanced cancers, hip replacements and cataract surgery, a fertility specialist said yesterday at the launch of a national campaign to improve NHS services for the childless.

Richard Lilford, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Leeds General Infirmary, criticised family doctors for not giving infertility the priority it deserved and said that if a woman had failed to conceive she should be given 'immediate and proficient' help.

'I maintain that those suffering from subfertility should have one of the highest priorities for NHS treatment and should come before chemotherapy for advanced cancers, before hip replacements and before cataract surgery.'

He added: 'If someone asked me whether I would rather have a few more years of life or have my own children, I would have no hesitation in saying that children were more important.'

Professor Lilford said yesterday that some people argued that the desire for children was 'a social construction' and that people only wanted them because society said that they should want them.

The report, Infertility, the Real Costs, commissioned for the launch of the first National Fertility Week says that one in six British couples will be faced with problems in conceiving.

However, John Dickson, chairman of the Issue, the national fertility association, and a co-sponsor of National Fertility Week, said people received 'truly shoddy and rotten' treatment from the NHS, with little or no treatment in most parts of the country.

'The fertile majority get every possible health care from family planning and contraception services to abortion, sterilisations and even sterilisation reversals,' he said.

'It's very hard to fathom a society which rightly tackles taboo issues like homosexuality and Aids yet shows so little care about 2 million couples in Britain whose only wish is to fulfill the most natural human instinct to have a baby.'

Mr Dickson said that a survey of NHS fertility provision had shown a picture of misinformation and disinterest among NHS managers. 'Half the authorities do not provide the most basic of infertility treatment, only one in four has a formal contract to provide successful treatments like in vitro fertilisation - and then often just treat a fraction of the patients who actually need it - and a staggering two-thirds rank infertility as such a low priority that they do not even have a policy.'

The new campaign is supported by nearly 20 organisations including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing.

Andrea Kon, author of the report, said that it cost pounds 2,000 on average for a single attempt at conception in a private clinic.

But younger women have a much better chance of having a baby. The average cost of having a baby for a woman over the age of 40, using IVF techniques, is pounds 35,000, the report says.

Studies of the effects of infertility on men and women show that half of women said that it adversely affected their sexual relationships and 53 per cent of men said that it affected their marriages.

A quarter of men said that infertility had a significant negative effect on their sex lives.