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NHS Trusts fail to deliver IVF pledge

9 October 2006
Appeared in BioNews 379

A survey conducted by a UK newspaper, The Independent, has revealed that nine out of ten NHS PCTs have failed to deliver their pledge of three free IVFtreatments for infertile couples, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Financial strain on NHS resources has meant that trusts have been cutting back on their IVF services, denying infertile couples a chance to conceive and creating a 'postcode lottery' in access to IVF treatment.

NICE recommended in 2004 that women between 23 and 39, who have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for three years or more, should be offered three cycles of IVF by their local PCT. John Reid, the Secretary for Health at the time, said that he hoped by 2005 all trusts would be able to offer at least one course of IVF for qualifying couples.

Over seventy PCTs were surveyed, which amounts to around half the total number in the UK. Two thirds of trusts surveyed only provided one cycle of IVF treatment while 17 per cent provided two cycles. Just six per cent of trusts managed to reach the requirement set by NICE of three cycles of IVF. This situation is not set to improve, with only three trusts indicating that they had plans to reach the NICE target and many trusts cutting the number of cycles they offer down to one. The demand for IVF in the UK may increase with the Government's likely decision not to limit access to treatment for single mothers and lesbians.

It has been suggested that trusts are also failing to adhere to the conditions laid down by NICE. The age consideration of women is being ignored and many trusts do not offer IVF treatment to couples who already have a child. Clare Brown, chair of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, said that 'It is absolutely appalling that the PCTs are still not implementing the NICE guidance'. The Department of Health has defended the PCTs, saying they need to consider a 'range of factors' to 'reflect local health needs and priorities' in their decisions to offer IVF treatment.

In a similar survey carried out on 64 fertility clinics in England and Wales by the British Fertility Society (BFS) in August 2005, it was reported that one in ten clinics were not providing IVF treatment on the NHS because the PCTs were not providing appropriate funding. The BFS wrote to all PCTs urging them to meet fertility targets set by NICE and called for equal access to treatment, condemning the apparent 'postcode lottery' whereby some couples were denied IVF treatment on the basis of where they lived.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Almost all NHS trusts fail on IVF pledge
The Independent |  9 October 2006
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