IVF pioneer, Dr Simon Fishel, has hit out at the NHS IVF Postcode Lottery, calling it “totally unacceptable” and unfair.
In current guidelines, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), claims women under the age of 40 who have failed to become pregnant after two years of trying, should be offered three free IVF cycles on the NHS. However, after recent budget crackdowns in the NHS, some clinics have stopped offering free IVF cycles altogether, while others have significantly restricted the service.
Here, we’ll examine the IVF postcode lottery and what fertility patients can do if they don’t qualify for free treatment.
IVF treatment often dependent upon CCG policies
For women seeking free IVF treatment in England, their chances of being accepted depend largely upon their local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group). Each CCG has its own policies relating to IVF and who can benefit from free treatment.
For some, they require women seeking treatment to be of a healthy weight, non-smokers and they mustn’t have had children previously. Some CCGs also only offer one free cycle, rather than the recommended three cycles set out in the NICE guidelines. There are even some CCGs which have withdrawn free treatment altogether.
So, for those who reside in the areas which have withdrawn free treatment, unless they can afford to go private, they have no chance of getting pregnant. The latest areas to withdraw free IVF treatment in England, include Croydon CCG, Basildon and Brentwood CCG and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG.
Praise for other countries which offer consistent and fair treatment
Dr Fishel has praised other countries which have developed a fair IVF system over the past 40 years. Israel leads the way, generously providing funding for as many cycles as it takes for a couple to get pregnant. Australia follows closely behind, offering six free cycles to patients.
July 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of IVF, so it is disappointing to see the treatment is now largely unavailable to those in need. The goal was to provide patients with an equal and fair opportunity to benefit from IVF, something which seems to now be a long way off.
So, does this mean that patients would be better heading to other countries to have the treatment? Not necessarily! While other countries may offer free, or at least significantly discounted treatment, the regulations may not be as strict as they are in the UK. Therefore, safety cannot always be guaranteed.
What options are there for fertility patients?
As the rules regarding free IVF treatment in England do vary depending upon the area, it is recommended fertility patients first speak to their GP. They will be able to tell you whether there are free treatments in the area, or whether any funding is available to aid in private treatment.
If private treatment is the only option, patients are advised to research their options in-depth before choosing the right clinic. Each set their own fees, and some won’t include the cost of fertility drugs. It is also important to choose a respectable, reliable clinic to ensure the highest chance of success.