The move to cut all routine IVF services for women under 40 was taken as a cost-saving measure to improve the CCG's deficit. Since ceasing services, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG saved £598,000 last year and predicts to save more in future, which it says could be 'used to fund a range of other vital healthcare services'. The CCG did not specify an end date, but said it 'will only review the decision again when it has achieved a financial surplus'.
The withdrawal was made despite a recommendation by the Department of Health and Social Care to provide services and weeks after former health minister Jackie Doyle-Price urged England's 195 CCGs to end the IVF postcode lottery (see BioNews 1003).
Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire, expressed his disappointment at the decision saying: 'For far too long, fertility services have been seen as a ''postcode lottery'' aspect of NHS care and this deeply unfair decision will cause untold distress and suffering to couples wishing to start a family.'
Sarah Norcross, co-chair of campaign group Fertility Fairness and director of Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews), added: 'Fertility patients in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will be devastated to hear that the clinical commissioning group has decided to remove access to NHS IVF indefinitely – despite the government's warning that it is unacceptable to do so and that the IVF postcode lottery blights patients' lives and damages the NHS' reputation.'
NHS-funded routine IVF treatment for women under 40 is available almost everywhere else in England, only four other CCGs - including three in the east of England - do not offer it. 'There are only five areas in the country where no IVF is being offered at all. It seems difficult to comprehend that other CCGs can manage their budgets such that they can afford to offer this treatment and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough can't,' said Norcross.
In a statement last week, Dr Gary Howsam, clinical chair of the CCG, said: 'Clinicians and managers alike acknowledge that this was a difficult decision in the current financial climate, it was not reasonable to reinstate the service.' He added that the CCG did not observe a rise in mental health incidents or multiple births as a result of its temporary withdrawal of IVF. It continues to offer a limited set of fertility treatments in exceptional circumstances.
Gwenda Burns, acting co-chair of Fertility Fairness and head of charity operations at Fertility Network, told the Cambridge Independent: 'This is a cruel, unfair decision. Infertility affects 3.5 million people and has a far-reaching impact: 90 percent of people are depressed and 42 percent feel suicidal. It is appalling that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG is ignoring the devastation infertility wreaks and refusing to allow access to NHS treatment.'
Meanwhile, in a positive move, the North East Essex CCG announced that it will review a prior decision, made in 2015, to withdraw IVF treatment.