IVF postcode lottery ‘getting worse’ in region

The IVF process.
The IVF process.
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INFERTILE couples in the region who are desperate to have a child face a worsening postcode lottery over NHS-funded IVF treatment, it has been revealed.

Newly-released figures show that only one area in the region now fully follows guidelines by offering three cycles of the fertility treatment on the NHS, after another reduced its provision to cut costs.

Jo and Andy Jones from Batley.

Jo and Andy Jones from Batley.

People in one other city may be able to access three rounds of IVF, if they go through further assessment after the second.

But residents in areas covered by the region’s other 21 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will only receive one or two NHS-funded cycles.

A national charity criticised the health bodies for the “harsh and unethical” rationing of treatment based on non-medical factors.

Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network UK, said: “People think that having IVF is a luxury and it’s absolutely not.

“The desire to have children is a basic biological need. If a medical condition stops you doing that, it deserves to be treated.

“It is harsh and unethical to ration clinical treatment for fertility problems based on non-medical factors such as postcode or whether your partner has a child from a previous relationship.”

The national recommendation, set by regulator the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is for all eligible women under 40 to receive three full NHS-funded IVF cycles.

It is up to individual CCGs, which plan healthcare for the area they cover, to decide how much fertility treatment they should fund.

However figures compiled by the charity, released today as part of its day of action over the issue, show that out of 209 CCGs in England, only 31 provide the recommended number.

Almost 60 per cent only offer one cycle and five CCGs do not fund any IVF at all for women aged under 40.

Couples in this region face poor provision, Fertility Network UK said, with only NHS Bassetlaw CCG offering three IVF treatment rounds on the NHS to those who are eligible.

NHS Hull CCG offers up to three cycles, but if a third cycle is required then each case has to go through an Individual Funding Request Panel, which will check eligibility criteria are still met and the probability of conception remains above 10 per cent.

Another CCG, Hambleton. Richmondshire and Whitby in North Yorkshire, offered three NHS cycles until recently but has now reduced this to one.

A spokeswoman said its Governing Body had approved the reduction, which was in line with other North Yorkshire CCGs: “The body, which is clinically-led by GPs and nurses with support from NHS managers, made the decision to approve an amended policy in October 2016 in response to financial challenges.” She said the new policy had come into force for new patients referred by their GP from the start of February this year.

Among the region’s other CCGs, a few offer two NHS-funded IVF cycles but the vast majority will only pay for one.

Mrs Seenan said that their research had found that couples spent an average of £11,378 on private fertility treatment.

“Some people simply cannot afford to do it. Other people get into debt, remortgage their house, take on extra jobs,” she added.

“Not everybody has the right to have a baby, but everybody has the right to try. It’s about the right to try having a baby and being able to access the medical treatment.

“What you end up with is this unfair postcode lottery across England with people only being able to access treatments depending on where they live.

“The impact on people’s lives is vastly misunderstood.

“It’s a medical condition and people suffering from infertility deserve the medical treatment that is recommended. That shouldn’t depend on your postcode.”

Fertility treatment was one of the first options targeted by CCGs when they needed to cut costs, she said, but this had a huge impact.

She added: “We want people to write to their MP, write to the health minister. We just hope we can raise the whole profile of this unfair postcode lottery in England.”

*People are being urged to join today’s day of action protesting against inequalities in fertility treatment funding.

Fertility Network UK is asking supporters to contact their MP, raise awareness via Twitter and join a social media Thunderclap. Susan Seenan, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We hope this day of action will trigger change for all those with fertility problems who are being denied the medical treatment that could help them become parents.”

A template letter to send to MPs is available at fertilitynetworkuk.org/action.

The social media Thunderclap is due to be sent at 3pm today, register to take part via www.thunderclap.it/projects/52716-the-right-totry-campaign.

Case study

Jo Jones and her husband Andy know only too well of the huge physical and emotional toll of fertility treatment.

The couple, from Batley, had an NHS-funded cycle of IVF in February last year after trying to conceive for four years.

The treatment was unsuccessful, so they went on to pay for another round privately in October, at a cost of £6,000.

Mrs Jones did become pregnant, but tragically she suffered a miscarriage at nine weeks.

The 30-year-old said it was “heartbreaking” when their initial IVF cycle failed and their distress was compounded when her pregnancy ended.

“People don’t generally understand the devastation that infertility causes. It seems to be one of the first treatments to be cut when CCGs are told they need to save costs.

“We just feel an inexplicable sadness and yearning. It totally consumes your life.

“It’s really unfair that the funding is different in different areas.”

Mrs Jones, who works for the Open University, added that she understood the pressures on the NHS but infertility often caused severe depression in those affected.

Expert view

A leading Yorkshire specialist said NHS funding was finite and so wider discussions needed to take place about what should take priority.

Dr Virginia Beckett, clinical lead for reproductive medicine at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and at Orbit Fertility at the Yorkshire Clinic in Bingley, said: “We need to have a discussion as a society about whether we want to prioritise life-prolonging treatment or life-enhancing treatment. That’s where the conflict arises.

“One cycle of IVF can enhance someone’s life for many years. We understand the psychological morbidity of being unable to conceive.”

She added: “My advice to people who don’t feel they’re able to access funding where they need it is to contact their MP, and to be aware that they can make an Individual Funding Request.”

Dr Beckett added that some IVF was funded in every area of the region, which was positive because some CCGs elsewhere in the country were opting not to fund any at all.

There was support among the general population for the NHS to fund fertility treatment, she added, but perhaps with greater restrictions.

But she said that NHS funding was finite: “There isn’t unlimited money, unless people are able to consider funding the NHS more through taxation.”

Leeds is one of the Yorkshire areas where only one cycle of NHS-funded IVF is offered.

A spokesman for the three Leeds clinical commissioning groups said: “It is well documented that the NHS is having to make tough decisions in light of the financial pressures it faces, especially with rising demand on services.

“Our local commissioning policies are designed to provide the best possible care that closely reflects the needs of our local population. As a result we, at times, need to adopt a different approach to some services compared to other areas within Yorkshire and The Humber, with IVF treatment being one of them. This means the Leeds CCGs only fund one cycle of IVF treatment.”