The UK government has announced an extra £1.5 million to help improve access to fertility services in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that 600 people join waiting lists for fertility treatment in Northern Ireland every year. It is hoped the extra funding will help reduce waiting times from 18 months to 1 year.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey told the BBC that current funding had provided for more than 400 cycles of treatment per year. 'The extra recurrent funding I am providing will ensure that, going forward, no-one who qualifies for publicly funded treatment will have a waiting time of longer than a year, and should allow a move towards increasing the number of cycles of treatment,' he said.
However, Sharon Davidson, the Northern Ireland organiser for the In Fertility Network UK, told the BBC that couples having to wait longer than 18 months for IVF were not uncommon.
'It is an illness, either male or female factor infertility, and has to be treated like an illness,' she told the BBC. 'People's lives are on hold waiting on this one chance. For people to go privately it can cost up to £4,000.'
By law, women in Northern Ireland should receive one cycle of IVF on the NHS, compared to three cycles elsewhere in the UK. Before 2001, there was no funding at all for fertility treatment in Northern Ireland.
Addressing the Assembly's health committee, officials stressed the importance of providing treatment for the one in seven couples affected by infertility.
The additional funding will help to ensure that everyone living in the UK has access to the same number of IVF cycles, according to the Department of Health.
Currently around 400 IVF cycles are carried out in Northern Ireland per year, but next year the additional investment will help deliver at least 840 cycles, said officials.