'The CCG board has found this an incredibly difficult decision to make,' said Dr Ian Orpen, the CCG's clinical chair. 'However, our financial challenge has forced us to have to consider restricting access to services to protect resources needed for patients who require urgent and emergency care, as well as those in our population with increasingly complex health and social care needs.'
The common financial challenges faced by CCGs around the country have led to the proposal of restrictions on fertility services, the group stated. The three cycles of IVF treatment for a couple on the NHS (National Health Service) recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is now only offered by one in six CCGs.
Devon, Dorset and West Cheshire CCGs have also restricted access to couples with a male partner BMI of more than 30, while the East of England CCG has a cut-off for men's BMI of 35. Weight reduction class referrals are offered for obese men wanting IVF treatment with their partner in South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bristol.
Most CCGs in the country have restricted IVF treatment to women of a healthy weight after evidence suggesting that obese women are more likely to find it difficult to conceive.
Orpen told The Independent: 'If being a healthy weight is going to help one of my patients to conceive, then that's something I'd like to help them achieve. We already ask women to be a healthy weight before fertility treatment, and we want to be fair about the way we share out NHS services.'
Orpen stated that the move is in line with NICE guidelines stating that there is a reduction in the likelihood of conceiving where male partners have a BMI over 30.
However, Professor Allan Pacey at the University of Sheffield, said the evidence behind the influence of BMI on male infertility is controversial. 'I would argue they are twisting the NICE guidelines to suit their decision,' he told The Independent. 'In my view, their decisions are not at all in line with NICE guidelines and they are straying into areas where there is absolutely no consensus, quite sad really.'
Sarah Norcross, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust, said: 'It is not the CCG's role to rewrite national guidelines on who is clinically eligible to access NHS IVF; that is what NICE guidance is for. Fertility Fairness is appalled that the CCG has removed access for men with a BMI greater than 30 and women over the age of 37.
'The Government and NHS England need to step in now and stop CCGs decimating NHS fertility services and ruining lives. Access to fertility treatment should be dependent on your medical need – and not your postcode and pay packet.'