Cuts to NHS budgets mean increasing numbers of infertile women are being denied the three cycles of IVF treatment that the Government’s health advisers say they should have, figures have revealed.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence’s (Nice) guidelines for the NHS state that couples with a defined cause for infertility should be referred for three rounds of IVF.
Three rounds should also be offered to all women under the age of 40 with “unexplained infertility”. But the guidelines are voluntary and hospitals are free to impose their own rules.
Figures obtained from England’s 211 Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) suggest that the number offering three cycles has fallen from 48 (23 per cent) last year to 38 (18 per cent). The number of CCGs offering women only one or two cycles has risen from 149 (71 per cent) last year to 171 (81 per cent). It costs the NHS £3,435 on average to fund a round of IVF; at least half the typical cost of private treatment, according to lobby group IVFYes.org.
Last night, GPs told i that the reduced availabilty of treatment stemmed from the pressure on CCGs to prioritise their costs. Dr Laurence Buckman, a former chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, who practises in London, said: “This is a desperately sad and unfair situation for hundreds of childless couples but comes down to the fact that CCGs are being forced to make desperately difficult choices. In the end it boils down to, are you going to budget for cataract operations or hip replacements, or forgo a third round of IVF treatment?”
Dr Louise Irvine, a South London GP who will stand for the National Health Action (NHA) party against the former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in next year’s election, said: “Nice guidance does not come with any money attached to it, and CCGs still have to manage funding accordingly. The responsibility ultimately remains with central government.”
The Department of Health said it expected CCGs to consider Nice guidance and abide by it.
Case Study: "Why should I have to move to get IVF?"
Karen Boardman, 34
“I married Pete in March 2011 and we wanted to start trying for a family straight away. Somehow I thought it might not be an easy road as I’m a recovered anorexic,” said the administrative assistant from York. “We did the recommended trying for a year before I began pestering my GP. There is no NHS funding for IVF treatment in York – it is the only place in the UK to offer absolutely no treatment. If I moved 20 miles west to Leeds I’d get one cycle and if I moved 20 miles east to Hull I’d get three cycles. I’m originally from Edinburgh, where you can get two cycles of IVF treatment, and sometimes I think should I just move back there, but why should I?”
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