IT is an irony that the parents of Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube baby’, would today be ineligible for IVF treatment because of the NHS postcode lottery and social rationing.
Yet, while this medical breakthrough has brought unbridled joy to the families of an estimated eight million babies who have been born following in-vitro fertilisation, it’s offset by the infertile couples still denied the chance to bring a child into the world.
Victims of the National Health Service’s strict eligibility rules which differ from one area to the next, and unable to afford private treatment, their pain and torment is acute ahead of celebrations to mark Louise’s 40th birthday next Wednesday and the groundbreaking work of the pioneering medics Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy.
It’s a moral question which goes to the heart of health policy – whether it be IVF treatment, cancer care or the assistance that the elderly receive in their final years. How can the hopes of patients, now totally different to those of 70 years ago when the NHS was formed, be met when taxes are having to go up to try to maintain existing services?
And here there’s sympathy for doctors. They’re having to balance emotional and ethical arguments with financial constraints and strict medical guidelines. It’s an invidious job made harder by the Government leaving it to local NHS trusts, and hospitals, to impose prescriptive parameters rather than providing clear criteria nationally on the treatment that families should have the right to expect. Perhaps this issue could be one of Matt Hancock’s first priorities as the newly Health Secretary.