NHS Surrey is the latest Primary Care Trusts to stop providing IVF for new patients. Facing a £125 million budget deficit this year, the trust has decided to suspend all new courses of the treatment, although women nearing 40 will be considered and ongoing treatments will be continued. Previously it funded up to two full cycles of IVF per couple, if the woman was aged between 23 and 39.
'By stopping doing things which aren't clinically necessary, we can safeguard and continue to do what's clinically essential or urgent, such as cancer referrals and life-threatening trauma cases in A&E', said Dr John Omany, the trust's medical director. Other treatments to be discontinued include acupuncture, spinal epidural injections for chronic back pain and some cosmetic procedures - such as those for male baldness, facial blushing and removing tattoos.
The decision was taken after the trust's board met to discuss 'serious financial challenges'. Treatments were categorised under a 'Fast, Steady, Stop' programme - those under 'Fast' are to be provided immediately, with those under 'Steady' to be available in turn and on time. 'Stop' treatments will not be provided at all. 'If you don't need it the NHS won't pay for it', said the board. The IVF policy is set to be reviewed next November.
The cuts come after several other trusts stopped offering new cycles of IVF. A recent survey conducted by Pulse magazine revealed nine out of the 124 trusts who participated in the survey had not funded treatment since September 2008, despite the government pledging to end the 'postcode lottery' when launching the 2004 NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines. Since then NHS West Kent has also suspended all non-urgent IVF until April 2011. The guidelines recommend the NHS should provide up to three full cycles of IVF for eligible patients.