A 24-year-old nursery nurse who was left infertile by childhood appendicitis is claiming age discrimination after being denied IVF treatment because she is too young.
Andrea Heywood and her husband Aaron have been turned down three times by their local primary care trust in Portsmouth and been told they must wait until she is 30 before receiving a free round of fertility treatment worth £5,000.
The couple claim waiting six years will make it less likely that the procedure will prove successful. The delays are causing stress which is affecting their relationship and work.
"It is bad enough not to be able to have children naturally, but this is like someone is saying 'no you can't have children – you have got to wait'," said Mrs Heywood. "I feel guilty for my husband because I am the one with the problem. It is very hard for me because I feel like I have let him down."
Mrs Heywood suffered severe scarring to her fallopian tubes when her appendix burst when she was six. She was told at the time that there could be problems conceiving but that she would be eligible for IVF treatment on the NHS.
However, she was only confirmed as infertile when she was an adult.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines state women should be offered three cycles of IVF from the age of 23 to 39 if it is clinically established they are unable to conceive by natural means. But under local funding guidelines in Portsmouth the Heywoods have been told they must wait until Andrea is 30, when they become eligible for free treatment.
In a legal letter sent to Portsmouth City PCT they said the decision was "unreasonable, unlawful, unjustified and unfair".
The couple, who have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby since they were married three years ago, face having to pay thousands of pounds for private IVF if they wish to start a family straight away.
Estate agent Mr Heywood, 25, said: "We have just got to wait or find the money ourselves. Some people might say it is not a lot of money to have children but it is a lot of money if you have not got it. We are only young and I was made redundant and we are still paying back debts from that," he said.
"Everyone our age from school and college are having children now. So when we go around to see them it can be upsetting," he added.
Recent draft guidelines from NICE. which are under consultation, recommend scrapping the lower age limit and suggest infertility should be treated as soon as possible because the chances of success decline with age. The couple's lawyer, Louisa Ghevaert, of solicitors Porter Dodson, said the decision by the PCT discriminates against the couple on grounds of age.
There is no medical reason why younger women should not benefit from IVF.
Ms Ghevaert said: "NICE guidance is not mandatory and it remains to be seen whether the new draft proposals will bring greater recognition of IVF as a legitimate clinical need. We need greater fairness in accessing fertility treatment on the NHS for couples like Andrea and Aaron who are battling with the postcode lottery and varying restrictions imposed by PCTs, who continue to flout the guidance across the country." A spokesperson for NICE acknowledged that PCTs were within their rights to introduce their own criteria, although these should be evidence-based.
A spokesperson for NHS Portsmouth declined to comment but said: "A woman must be aged 30-34 for the NHS to fund a cycle of IVF treatment."
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