Cuts to the UK’s NHS fertility service have created a ‘postcode lottery’ for IVF treatment as patients in some areas are just offered funding for one IVF cycle or sometimes none at all.
The number of cycles that you may have funded by the NHS can vary considerably depending upon where you live. Many women are even resorting to moving house in order to qualify for more IVF funding.
NHS IVF funding
Given the high cost of IVF treatment and the fact that success is not guaranteed, funding of the procedure is of paramount importance to some patients.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) lays out clear guidelines of who they believe should be offered NHS IVF funding.
They suggest that:
- Women under 40 years should qualify for three rounds of IVF if they have been trying for two or more years
- 40-42 year olds should qualify for one round
Are NICE guidelines being ignored?
It would appear that in some areas the NICE guidelines are being completely ignored when it comes to deciding NHS funding benefits for IVF.
The issue is that IVF funding criteria is actually decided at a local level, by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). The decision by CCGs is often much stricter than the NICE guidelines.
Local CCGs may include additional criteria to the NICE guidelines. These include:
- Neither partner having other children, from this or previous relationships
- Stricter age ranges
- Healthy BMI
- Non-smokers only
In fact, statistics show that only 12 percent of CCGs follow the guidance laid out by NICE, down from the 24 percent that did so in 2013.
Drastic cutbacks have been made over recent years to NHS funding of infertility treatments. It is up to the CCGs to make decisions as to what treatments to prioritize funding to in their local authority.
IVF funding has been an area which has taken a considerable hit. CCGs have been defying the guidance laid out to them and cutting much needed treatment in a bid to save money.
To give a few examples:
- Cheshire CCGshave recently cut their IVF funding from three cycles to just one
- Three Worcestershire CCGshave cut their funding from two to one cycle
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCGs have completely suspended IVF funding until April 2019
Inconsistencies in treatment dependant on postcode
Dr Raj Mathur, who is a consultant gynecologist at St. Mary’s hospital, Manchester was recently told The Guardian that within his clinic, he accepts NHS patients from 23 different CCGs across north-west England.
He stated that “the geographical differences in funding were discriminatory.” He went on to say that in the course of his work, he may see women from Manchester qualify for just one cycle, while those from Rochdale, qualify for three.
In fact, some residential streets even span across two different CCG areas, therefore neighbors living over the road from each other may also qualify for different levels of funding.
Shockingly, in some areas of the UK, no funding for IVF is offered. Whereas, in other areas the recommended three cycles worth of funding are easily available.
These patients travel to countries like Spain and India for IVF, where the treatment is not only affordable, but also immediately available.
Patients willing to relocate for IVF benefits
Dr Mathur also told The Guardian, that “he constantly saw patients moving house in order to get more free IVF cycles.”
Given that IVF can cost patients in excess of £10,000, this is often the only way patients can afford to access fertility treatments.
Inconsistent funding of fertility treatment is definitely an issue that requires further attention. Fertility campaigners have been putting pressure on the government to review this and make a change to policies.