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Postcode lottery for IVF continuing in UK

10 April 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 353

The UK's Independent on Sunday (IoS) says that 'a generation of women is being denied the chance to give birth', following an investigation that shows that provision of IVF services in the UK remains a 'postcode lottery'. The newspaper revealed that only 40 per cent of the nation's PCTs are currently offering NHS-funded IVF treatment, a year after every PCT was meant to offer all eligible couples at least one free cycle. The IoS says that 'ministers are failing to enforce their pledge'.

The IoS also found that many PCTs are denying or heavily restricting access to IVF - for example by providing it only to women in their late thirties who have never previously paid privately for fertility services. In reaction to the findings, MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility (APPGI) have demanded that Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, takes action to ensure that all PCTs in England and Wales provide at least one free IVF cycle to all infertile couples. But a spokesman from the Department of Health said that it was up to PCTs to 'make their own decisions about which treatments to fund'.

Health ministers in the UK had recommended that all health authorities should follow guidance issued by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). NICE recommended, in February 2004, that three cycles of IVF should be offered to all infertile couples, subject to certain clinical criteria, to end the 'postcode lottery' of provision. Shortly afterwards, the then health secretary, Sir John Reid, announced that all infertile couples where the woman was aged between 23 and 39, and fitting certain other additional criteria - including having no other children living with them - should be given just one free cycle of IVF on the NHS from April 2005, with a view to increasing provision further in time.

However, last November, a study of PCTs showed that at least 23 were not providing any NHS-funded fertility treatment by the April 2005 deadline. Eighteen others were only offering IVF under 'exceptional circumstances' and many others were denying treatment to women in their late thirties. Earlier, in September 2005, research published by the UK's Audit Commission showed that a 'postcode lottery' still exists in many aspects of the provision of medical services, including the provision of fertility treatment on the NHS. The report suggested that the problems continue to exist because of poor planning and financial management in the NHS. Another example of the continued 'postcode lottery' came to light in July 2005, when ten PCTs in the county of Hampshire were shown to be refusing to fund IVF treatments, despite the Government's promises. They said that, because of limited funding, IVF treatment in the county has to be a low priority.

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK said that the ongoing 'postcode lottery' in IVF is 'absurd'. 'I can't see the point in the Government referring something to NICE for national guidelines', she said, adding 'when they come in they are not worth the paper they are written on - they need to do something to make these guidelines mandatory'.

IVF: How a generation of women is being denied the chance to give birth
The Independent on Sunday |  9 April 2006
Should the NHS give all infertile couples one free shot at.. IVF?
The Daily Mirror |  10 April 2006
The fertility gap
The Independent on Sunday |  9 April 2006
The hard choices on health can no longer be avoided
The Independent on Sunday |  9 April 2006
14 February 2011 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
Public health minister Anne Milton has said NHS Primary Care Trust's should follow existing guidelines and offer three cycles of IVF to eligible couples....
6 May 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Last week, nurses in the UK decided to take action and lobby the British government to demand uniform eligibility criteria for infertility treatment and for the provision of up to three cycles of NHS-funded IVF be implemented by all UK fertility clinics, replacing the arbitrary 'postcode lottery...
13 August 2007 - by Danielle Hamm 
A survey conducted by the Infertility Network UK (I N UK) and sponsored by the UK Department of Health (DH) has shown that the provision of IVF treatment in the UK does not meet government guidelines. The survey indicated that provision of NHS fertility treatment is patchy...
9 October 2006 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A survey conducted by a UK newspaper, The Independent, has revealed that nine out of ten NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have failed to deliver their pledge of three free IVF treatments for infertile couples, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE...
31 August 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The British Fertility Society (BFS) has issued an independent report stating that access to fertility treatment in the UK is still unequal and governed by a 'postcode lottery'. The BFS conducted a survey of 64 fertility clinics in England and Wales, receiving responses from 37, which...
16 January 2006 - by Professor William L Ledger 
Many years ago the then Minister of Health, Frank Dobson, drew attention to the unfairness of the 'postcode lottery' of provision of infertility treatments in the UK. Following his initiative, a subsequent Minister, Alan Milburn, later commissioned the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to look into this...
21 November 2005 - by BioNews 
A study of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in the UK has found that at least 23 were not providing any National Health Service (NHS)-funded fertility treatment by an April deadline earlier this year. Eighteen other PCTS were only offering IVF under 'exceptional circumstances' and many others were denying treatment...
8 September 2005 - by BioNews 
Research published by the UK's Audit Commission says that a 'postcode lottery' still exists in many aspects of the provision of medical services, despite guidance issued to ensure that patients across the nation have equal access to services and drug provision. Included in the Audit Commission's report is the provision...
22 August 2005 - by BioNews 
A Conservative MP, from Fareham in Hampshire, has written to the UK's Healthcare Commission, which looks into complaints against the National Health Service (NHS), to ask for an inquiry into the provision of fertility treatment in the county. Mark Hoban is MP for a constituency where no fertility treatment is...
21 July 2005 - by BioNews 
Despite government promises to end the 'postcode lottery' of the provision of fertility treatment in the UK, ten primary care trusts (PCTs) of the UK's National Health Service (NHS) have said they will refuse to fund IVF treatments at present. The ten PCTs, all in the county of Hampshire, said...
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