THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to carry out a wide-ranging review into why places like Yorkshire have some of the worst availability for IVF on the NHS, leaving many couples with one chance to have a baby.
Charities and healthcare providers have criticised the national postcode lottery as “cruel and unjust” as many families are forced to pay thousands of pounds for IVF or be unable to have a child at all.
Most areas in the region allow only one cycle on the NHS, despite National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines advising three cycles for women under 40. Only Hull, Barnsley and Bassetlaw offer three cycles on the NHS, with Doncaster and Rotherham offering two. Local areas also have different age and health requirements.
Gwenda Burns, the chief executive of charity Fertility Network, which offers advice and support to people undergoing IVF, said: “The postcode lottery is cruel and unjust. Access to fertility treatment should be dependent on your medical need, not your postcode or pay packet.
“The UK pioneered IVF over 40 years ago, but that achievement means nothing if only those who can afford to pay for private fertility treatment benefit from it.”
She said that her organisation’s own research shows 90 per cent of people with fertility problems feel depressed and 42 per cent feel suicidal, and added: “Facing fertility problems is distressing enough, without being denied medical help because of where you live.”
The problem was getting worse every year, said Tone Jarvis-Mack, the chief executive of the Fertility Foundation, a charity that offers grants to couples who cannot afford to pay privately for IVF.
He added: “The IVF postcode lottery is becoming more acute each year.
“Access to fertility treatment on the basis of where you live is not only inequitable but is also a sad indictment of the nature of today’s NHS. Infertility is a disease and should be treated as one by the NHS and be funded appropriately.”
John Kell, the Patients Association’s head of policy, said there had been “sustained underfunding”, and that a Government pledge to boost funding by £33.9bn in the next five years is not enough.
He said: “Patients across the country are finding that the NHS is reducing what it offers in a haphazard way, and the post code lottery is getting worse.
“This is purely down to the sustained underfunding of the NHS, and will not get better any time soon.
“IVF is one of several prime targets for CCGs scrabbling to save cash – cataract operations are another example.
“The new funding committed to the NHS is not enough to maintain current service levels and deliver the transformation that the NHS needs, and the Government’s decision to enshrine its underfunding in law is not just disappointing, but troubling.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said decisions on IVF treatment should be made by doctors based on a patient’s “individual clinical needs and in line with NICE guidelines”.
A spokesperson added: “While provision of NHS infertility treatment is decided by local Clinical Commissioning Groups, we are clear that blanket restrictions on treatment are unacceptable.”
Though there are huge differences in availability of IVF across the region, within West Yorkshire NHS bosses have tried to ensure the rules are the same.
The NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group said its decision to only fund one cycle of IVF treatment is in line with the other partners within the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership as “we have agreed to align our policies to ensure a consistent approach”.
A spokesperson said: “It has been well documented that the NHS has to make tough decisions in light of the financial pressures it faces, especially with rising demand on services.”