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NHS group denies single women IVF treatment

27 August 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1012

An NHS group has banned single women from accessing funded fertility treatment (see this week's Comment).

NHS South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership's (STP's) policy refuses IVF to women not in a 'stable relationship' on the grounds that it would cause a 'both the child and the mother' a 'known disadvantage'.

'Infertility is a condition that requires investigation, management and treatment in accordance with national guidance', the STP said in a statement which also confirmed that 'at present, routine funding of assisted conception for single women is not available'. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines state that women should be offered three cycles of IVF if they are under 40-years-old and have been trying to conceive naturally for two years, or have had 12 attempts at artificial insemination. Whether the woman is in a relationship or single is not considered as a factor. Local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) do not have to adhere to NICE recommendations, and five do not fund IVF at all, leading to a so-called 'postcode lottery' where access to IVF is determined by where you live.

The rationale for the decision is based on a 2011 internal document called 'Fertility treatment for single women and same-sex couples' authored by U Surwar. The document is not publicly available but excerpts were published by The Times.

According to the Times, the document asserts that 'a sole woman is unable to bring out the best outcomes for the child' and that such families 'place a greater burden on society in general'. The document also claims that the 'denial of fertility treatment has a limited impact on a woman's life satisfaction'. It is not known what research these claims are based on.

The policy is not new and can be found in documents dating back to at least 2013.  It came to light after a woman in the Greenwich and Woolwich constituency brought it to the attention of her MP, Matthew Pennycook. 

According to the Daily Mail, Mr Pennycook said the policy was based on 'subjective and obsolete views of single mothers'.

'I am shocked to see such outdated sentiments in a document explicitly referenced as supporting evidence' he wrote.

The STP comprises six CCGs and five NHS trusts, and is responsible for providing care to 1.9 million residents.

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