The UK's NHS announced last week that more state-funded IVF treatments are now available to couples in the east of England than anywhere else in the country. As of 1 May, the region will be the first in the UK to fund up to six attempts at pregnancy with fertility treatment.
Although 70 per cent of the population in the UK will conceive naturally within 18 months of attempting pregnancy, and 90 per cent after two years, about one in six couples have fertility problems. Until now, infertile couples could get up to three IVF cycles free on the NHS, dependent on their local PCT. There are, however, wide variations in healthcare trusts across the country, with some offering only one full cycle.
In the five years since the NHS put these guidelines in place, based on recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), a 'postcode lottery' has continued to exist in relation to infertility treatments due to not all PCTs offering the recommended amount of cycles.
Experts have previously stated that limiting the number of IVF cycles can encourage the implantation of more than one embryo, which increases the risk of multiple births thereby putting mother and child in danger.
The new system allows eligible couples up to six attempts at pregnancy, including a maximum of three full cycles of IVF treatment and a further three frozen embryo transfers.
Certain eligibility criteria must be met before couples can be included in this scheme, including that the women must be between 23 and 39 with no children from the current relationship. Women must also be registered with a GP from one of the six counties in the east of England: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
The news has been welcomed by Mike Macnamee, chief executive of Bourne Hall Clinic near Cambridge, which was established as the world's first IVF clinic. He is 'delighted that the east of England is taking a lead in making IVF more widely accessible and creating a clearer and more consistent treatment pathway across the PCTs'.
Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network UK and chair of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign said of the announcement that 'this is great news for patients across the 14 PCTs in the East of England area'. However, she urged the PCTs that still do not provide the full three cycles to 'follow the example of the East of England and put an end once and for all to the postcode lottery which denies patients the treatment they deserve'.