North-east Essex could be reinstating free IVF treatment on the NHS after a controversial decision to withdraw treatment.
In 2015 North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (NEECCG) cut the service due to financial pressures and is just one of five CCGs that do not provide free fertility treatment to its patients, the others being Croydon, Mid Essex, Basildon and Brentwood, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) evidence-based clinical guidelines state that eligible women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF. However, the number of CCGs offering the recommended three cycles has been steadily decreasing, with currently only three authorities across the UK offering three cycles, with others offering a reduced service and five offering none. Health Minister Caroline Dinenage wrote to these five CCGs in November 2019 urging them to address England's 'unacceptable' IVF postcode lottery, and for them to rethink their decisions on not providing any NHS fertility treatment.
Two cycles of IVF treatment are currently available to patients in the NHS Ipswich, East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk CCG areas, which, along with NHS north east Essex form the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS). The ICS is currently in the process of reviewing its provision of IVF treatment. 'We are proposing that two cycles of IVF treatment be made available to patients in north-east Essex who meet the necessary criteria from 1 April 2020 to bring us into line with the treatment available to patients elsewhere in the ICS' a spokesperson for the NHS NEECCG told ITV.
However, the reinstatement of free IVF still needs to be approved by the Trust's board.
Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews) said 'North East Essex has said it is considering providing two IVF cycles for women under 40, rather than the recommended three and has not provided any information on whether women aged 40 to 42 will be able to access the recommended one IVF cycle... Women with fertility problems have been waiting nearly five years to access medical help and some of those women may now be aged 40 to 42. It would be unspeakably cruel to refuse NHS fertility treatment to them now.'
The CCG will shortly be asking residents for their views about this proposal, along with other clinical policies, and their responses will be taken into consideration when the proposal is put in front of the board.
Norcross added: 'North East Essex CCG's change of heart, which comes on the heels of Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage's strongly-worded letter to those CCGs who do not provide any NHS fertility treatment, raises the hope that CCGs are beginning to address England's unacceptable IVF postcode lottery'
Furthermore, it emerged in August 2019 that single women were being denied NHS-funded infertility treatments 'because of the known disadvantage that providing assisted conception to a single woman would cause both the child and the mother' (see BioNews 1012). Following a recent review, NHS South-East London has now announced that they will amend their policy to allow single women access to IVF in line with NICE guidance, which does not include any stipulations as to the relationship status of the person planning to have treatment.
A postcode lottery is hindering fair access to treatment for infertility across the country. Norcross concluded 'PET urges the four CCGs who still refuse to provide NHS fertility treatment to follow suit and restore NHS IVF now... For the one in six couples affected by infertility the clock is ticking: delays not only add to the deep distress infertile couples experience, they may also remove a couple's chances of ever becoming parents.'
PET Director Sarah Norcross has been interviewed by ITV News about NEECCG considering the reinstatement of NHS-funded IVF. The item can be watched below.
(If you cannot see the video below, click here to view it.)