South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has decided to increase IVF funding for eligible couples to receive two cycles of treatment rather than none. The decision has been made despite the recent trend of CCGs cutting funding in many areas of England (see BioNews 983).
From 1 April 2019, South Norfolk CCG will offer an equal number of cycles to the rest of Norfolk, eliminating variation among CCGs in the region.
'Now all patients will have the same pathway,' Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, regional lead clinician at Bourn Hill Fertility Clinic in Norfolk, told the Wymondham and Attleborough Mercury. 'Now all patients will have the same pathway and if they require IVF treatment and meet the strict eligibility criteria, they will be offered two funded cycles of IVF.'
The treatment offered will consist of two cycles for women aged between 23 and 39 and one cycle for women aged between 40 and 42. Previously, couples in South Norfolk had been offered no cycles at all, except for patients with certain medical conditions, after IVF funding was cut in 2016. Two cycles is below the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which recommends three.
This decision comes a month after the announcement of the NHS Long Term Plan, which includes the aim of reducing variation between NHS organisations. Under the plan, areas such as Norfolk and Waveney are set to move towards a single CCG within an 'integrated care system'. This led to suggestions in January that it would mean a boost to South Norfolk CCG's IVF provision, the Eastern Daily Press reported.
In a governing body meeting, South Norfolk CCG noted this aim of the NHS Long Term Plan, resolving to match IVF provision elsewhere in the region. The meeting minutes read: 'All other CCGs in Norfolk and Waveney fund two cycles of IVF as standard and, with the exception of North Norfolk CCG, the governing bodies of the remaining CCGs have been canvassed for a view as to whether they would wish to reduce the number of cycles being offered. None were in favour of this approach. The only viable Norfolk and Waveney-wide option therefore appears to be the funding of two cycles.'
This will amount to an annual cost of £179,990, the governing body estimated. The cuts to the service in January 2016 were made in response to South Norfolk's estimated £14-million debt. The CCG has since said that 'all areas of healthcare were examined for savings' and that the 'intention was always to review this decision when circumstances allowed'.
Sarah Norcross, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews), welcomed the increase in IVF provision. 'Although this is still less than the recommended number of three full IVF cycles, it is a massive step in the right direction,' she said.
Aileen Feeney, co-chair of Fertility Fairness, said: 'Removing or reducing the number of NHS IVF cycles they offer is an economically short-sighted move which also ignores the devastating impact of infertility – physically, emotionally, socially and financially.'