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'Postcode lottery' unacceptable after 30 years of IVF

14 July 2008
By Clare Lewis-Jones MBE
Chief Executive, Infertility Network UK and Chair of the Organising Committee for National Infertility Day
Appeared in BioNews 466
Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, will be 30 years old on 25 July 2008. Here Clare Brown, who was among those to speak at a reception organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility to mark next week's National Infertility Day 2008, reflects on three decades of progress in assisted reproduction and draws attention to continuing problems with availability and access to IVF in the UK:

Please, those of you who are fortunate enough not to have difficulties in conceiving - take stock, consider the thousands of children now born as a result of IVF, and imagine life without them. Ask yourself why it is that providing a treatment on the NHS which has the ability to bring children in to the world, to create a family, is seen as a 'low priority'?

There is no denying that there is increased funding for fertility treatment in comparison to four years ago when the NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) fertility guideline was first published. But equally there is no denying that it still depends on where you live as to just how much funding is available and, given the huge variations in eligibility criteria, for who.

Considering the successful 30 years of IVF, pioneered in this country by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, it seems, quite frankly, totally unacceptable that those who might achieve what the fertile majority are able to achieve without anyone questioning their decision to have a child, are unable to - simply because of where they live. Not their ability to be a parent; not their ability to love and care for a child; simply where they live; how old they are and so on.

We now have yet another reason for implementation of the full guideline as quickly as possible and that is the move to single embryo transfer - a move that my organisation supports. However, as the Expert Group on Multiple Births after IVF (set up by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) identified, the biggest factor affecting patients acceptance of single embryo transfer is the situation with NHS funding.

I am pleased that my organisation, Infertility Network UK were asked by the Department of Health to work on the project to share good practice amongst PCT in the implementation of the NICE guideline as well as to try to standardise the hugely varying eligibility criteria currently being used by the PCTs. We are two thirds of the way through that project and we hope to provide some tools for PCTs in the next year or so.

I am also pleased that the Department has set up the Expert Commissioning Group to support the project and I look forward to working with Sally Cheshire and her colleagues on that group to make things better.

Drawing to a close I would like to highlight issues that we cannot and will not be deflected from.

We cannot get away from the fact that every month that goes by there are couples who will not be able to access NHS funding.

We cannot get away from the fact that those living in Scotland are able, in the main, to access 3 cycles.

We cannot get away from the fact that the move to single embryo transfer is just around the corner, yet a huge number of PCTs are only funding the fresh transfer and not the frozen.

We cannot get away from the fact that the NHS are happy to fund the creation of something as special as an embryo but only allow the transfer of the frozen embryos in the private sector.

And we cannot get away from the fact that the vast majority of couples still only have access to just one cycle of IVF.

On behalf of the one in six couples facing difficulties in conceiving and who deserve to access the most appropriate treatment for them funded by an NHS which is there to treat those with illnesses - which is what infertility is - I urge anyone involved in treating infertility to get away from those facts and implement the NICE guideline in full and as promised.

National Infertility Day 2008 is on Saturday 19 July. For more information and to register on line please go to the National Infertility Day website or phone 01323 637713.

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....
29 October 2009 - by Ben Jones 
The Labour party is urging the Scottish parliament to take action to standardise IVF provision across Scotland, after Labour MSP Jackie Baillie discovered wide disparities in provision between the 11 Scottish NHS boards. Ms Baillie contacted all of the boards after having been approached by a constituent who was upset about the length of IVF waiting lists where they lived....
10 August 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
More than eight out of 10 PCTs are still failing to offer the full three cycles of IVFtreatment as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), according to a report published by Tory MP Grant Shapps this week. The report revealed further inconsistencies in the criteria PCTs were using to decide who should get NHS-funded IVF, resulting in some mothers being both too old and too young to access treatment, depending on where they lived....
9 August 2009 - by Grant Shapps MP 
For anyone who has found it easy to conceive naturally, it's possibly hard to imagine how IVF can become all-encompassing in someone's life. The endless check-ups, scans, tests, periods of waiting and - finally - the day when you learn the result. It's a physically punishing process for the women and an emotionally exhausting process for both partners...
2 March 2009 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
I welcome the letter from Alan Doran, Interim Chief Executive of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to all Directors of Public Health in England on the subject of multiple births and commissioning IVF services. Why? Let's be honest! In England, even before the move to single embryo transfer...
27 May 2008 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
I thank BioNews for giving me another opportunity to highlight the fact that not just one or two, not just a hundred or so, not just several hundred, but probably thousands of couples who need assisted conception treatment such as IVF or ICSI in order to have a child are...
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...
5 February 2007 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
It is now been an incredibly long three years since the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published the clinical guideline on fertility. It is also an incredibly long two years since all Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) should have made at least one cycle of in vitro...
29 May 2006 - by Clare Lewis-Jones MBE 
National Infertility Day (NID) 2006 will take place on 10 June. The venue will once again be the New Connaught Rooms in central London. So what is National Infertility Day and why do it? I know that when myself and my colleague, Sheena Young, first started talking to people back...
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...
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