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British Fertility Society speaks out on access to IVF

31 August 2006
Appeared in BioNews 374

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 showed that one in 10 was not providing IVF treatment free on the NHS because they were not being given funding by the local PCTs. Across the country, the BFS found that many (PCTs) have insufficient plans to meet government targets set over two year ago, and no clear criteria regarding who should be eligible for NHS-funded treatment.

In February 2004, health ministers in the UK recommended that all health authorities should follow guidance issued by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which had recommended 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.

In the light of its findings, the BFS has written to every PCT in England and local health board in Wales asking them to meet government fertility targets and setting out recommended criteria for NHS funding of fertility treatment. Its report makes 11 recommendations, aimed to help PCTs become more uniform in the services they provide, and provide value for money by providing treatments for those it would most likely benefit. The report says that single women and same-sex couples should be given equal access to treatment as heterosexual couples and that people with children from previous relationships should not be excluded from access to NHS treatment. However, it advises that women over the age of 40 should not receive NHS-funded treatment; women who are overweight initiate a weight-loss programme before treatment; and that those who are severely overweight should not receive treatment until their weight has reduced. It also says that underweight women should address their weight before treatment is given. These and other recommendations ought to 'provide a basis for consistent application of social as well as medical criteria for access to state-funded fertility treatment in England and Wales', said Dr Mark Hamilton, chair of the BFS.

Mr Richard Kennedy, lead author of the BFS study, which is published in the September issue of the journal Human Fertility, said that for there to be equality of access across the UK, 'there must be an explicit plan for the provision of three fresh cycles of IVF and consistency in the criteria used for NHS treatment'. He added that the proposed criteria would standardise access to treatment and said: 'We must use the findings of this survey to pursue the goal of full implementation of the NICE guideline'. The BFS recommendations have been given the support of the UK's main patient support group, Infertility Network UK. Clare Brown, the chief executive, said that 'from our own surveys and from the many, many calls we receive from patients, we know only too well that there are still unacceptable inequalities in the funding of treatment around the country and couples face huge difficulties in accessing services'.

BFS statement on social criteria for NHS funding of fertility treatment
British Fertility Society |  30 August 2006
Call for fertility ban for obese
BBC News Online |  30 August 2006
Couples losing out in NHS infertility treatment lottery
The Guardian |  30 August 2006
Overweight women may lose right to free IVF
The Times |  30 August 2006
21 March 2011 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
A recent survey has found that two thirds of women would consider moving to another area of the UK to access IVF on the NHS....
30 June 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Only nine out of 151 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England are funding the recommended three cycles of IVF for infertile couples, according to the UK Department of Health. The latest figures reveal that despite guidance issued over four years ago, four trusts are still offering...
23 June 2008 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
A British MP has raised more concerns about access to National Heath Service-funded IVF in the UK. It transpires that a number of IVF clinics in the UK are denying free treatment to women who smoke. Labour MP Sally Keeble identified the latest barrier to accessing...
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...
20 June 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Prague (sponsored by Planer cryoTechnology). By Dr Kirsty Horsey: Europe's increasing demographic crisis could be helped by providing free fertility treatment to more women, says RAND Europe, an independent research organisation, at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE...
20 June 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Prague (sponsored by Planer cryoTechnology). By Dr Kirsty Horsey: Research presented today at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Prague, Czech Republic, suggests that the benefits that would come from the UK's government providing free fertility treatment...
21 April 2006 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
It is now five years since the UK Government asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to produce guidelines for the treatment of infertility. It is now four years since the Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Mr Tony Blair MP, said in his message of support to...
10 April 2006 - by BioNews 
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 primary care...
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...
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