A six-week public consultation in relation to IVF provision in Bury has resulted in the reduction of treatment cycles that couples can receive.
The consultation period could have seen free fertility treatment in the area entirely scrapped. 'What came through loud and clear was that there was little support to move to zero funded cycles,' said Stuart North, chief officer for Bury CCG.
He added: 'Bringing the CCG in line with the majority of other areas…the governing body agreed to reduce provision of IVF to one funded cycle for eligible patients from October 2018.'
Bury CCG's governing body board said the move will save up to £170,000 every year.
The UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists noted in its recent scientific impact paper that the availability of government funding for IVF is the single most important factor when considering the rates of multiple pregnancies following treatment (see BioNews 966). Multiple birth pregnancies are considered high risk for both mother and baby compared with singleton pregnancies.
Aileen Feeney, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and chief executive of patient charity Fertility Network noted how this economic tactic may be short sighted 'by increasing the likelihood that more patients will travel abroad for reduced cost fertility treatment – a move that is highly likely to drive up the number of multiple births which are of high risk to mother and babies and incur additional long-term medical costs'.
Feeney also said that a reduction in IVF funding will result in further costs to the NHS through an increase in mental health problems. 'Infertility is a devastating disease which can cause depression, suicidal feelings, relationship breakdown and social isolation; removing the recommended medical help is cruel and economically short-sighted,' she said.
One of the key themes identified at the meeting as noted in the CCG consultation report was: 'The possible impact on mental health should the number of cycles be reduced was a common feedback theme identified.'
The discussion concluded that: 'The CCG will work closely with local mental health providers to ensure that any impact on local services from a policy change is fully understood and responded to.'
The guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends three full cycles of IVF for women under 40 years, and one for women aged 40 to 42.
Sarah Norcross, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews) noted: 'Bury was one of only 11.5 percent of clinical commission groups that funded the nationally recommended three full IVF cycles.’
She added: 'Access to fertility treatment should be dependent on your medical need – and not your postcode or pay packet.'