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Fertility treatment in UK remains inadequate

13 August 2007
Appeared in BioNews 420

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, with many PCTs not providing any IVF, and that there is a wide variation in the eligibility criteria employed by those that do.

UK guidelines, issued by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in February 2004, stipulate that all eligible couples should be offered up to three free cycles of IVF if the woman is between 23 and 39 years old. A cycle of IVF, according to these guidelines, includes the freezing and re-implantation of eligible embryos. The survey showed that less than half of the fertility clinics in the UK are fulfilling this criterion; resulting in women having to undergo unnecessary ovarian stimulation and egg removal. Clare Brown, chief executive of I N UK, told the BBC: 'It is unacceptable that many PCTs are failing to include frozen embryo transfers as part of their IVF cycles. This is vitally important given the likely move towards single embryo transfer for appropriate patients'.

Whilst most of the clinics who responded to the survey had some provision for free IVF, the social eligibility criteria varied widely. This has apparently resulted in the bizarre situation that a 36 year old woman in Wiltshire was reportedly told she was too old for treatment, whilst a 28 year old woman in the Thames Valley was told she would have to wait until she is 36 before she is eligible for treatment.

NICE guidelines stipulate that priority should be given to couples who do not have children living with them; 40 per cent of respondents, however, disqualified couples with any children from previous relationships, regardless of whether the children lived with them or not.

In response to these findings the government has again committed to improving the availability and equality of access to IVF in the UK and to working with I N UK to develop best practice guidelines. Dawn Primarolo MP, who holds ministerial responsibility for fertility, said: 'We have initiated a project with Infertility Network UK to help the NHS in the development of good practice in the provision of fertility services, including involving patients in decision making'. The government has also committed to developing standard social eligibility criteria and implementing a national monitoring system of IVF provision.

Free IVF care 'denied to many'
BBC News Online |  6 August 2007
IVF services failing couples
OnMedica |  7 August 2007
Thousands denied fertility treatment as half of England's health authorities fail to honour pledge
The Guardian |  6 August 2007
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...
28 August 2007 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
The continuing lack of public funding to help many UK couples affected by infertility was highlighted recently by a new survey, carried out by Infertility Network UK (I N UK) (See BioNews 420). Both as patient organisations CHILD and ISSUE, prior to our merger in 2003 to form I N...
31 July 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
A report published by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility has highlighted the need for greater funding for infertility treatment on the National Health Service (NHS). The UK National Infertility Awareness Campaign (NIAC) has welcomed the report, as part of its continued campaign to end the current...
10 April 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a consultation to find the best way to reduce problems experienced by IVF children arising from multiple births. According to the HFEA, as IVF has become more successful, the number of multiple births has increased. Currently around...
5 March 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
A report has revealed that couples receive varied IVF treatment across UK Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), despite guidelines issued by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence in 2004 that all women between the age of 23 and 39 years old should receive three cycles of...
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...
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...
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...
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