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UK lags behind the rest of Europe in IVF

6 July 2009
Appeared in BioNews 515

Britain is languishing behind other European countries in the number of IVF cycles provided for infertile couples and Brits are three times less likely to undergo IVF than those living in Denmark and Belgium, a study reveals.

The study, led by Anders Nyboe Andersen, from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, used data provided in 2006 on infertility treatment from 13 countries. The findings were presented at the annual conference of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Amsterdam last week and placed Britain 11th out of 13 countries in the number of IVF cycles undergone per million population. Denmark topped the list with 2,337 cycles per million, followed by Belgium with 2,187 cycles. In Britain, just 729 per million of the population received IVF ahead only of Germany (664) and Montenegro (408).

Commentators have interpreted the findings as illustrating the lack of funding for IVF on the NHS. It was reported early this year that only one in five Primary Care Trusts are providing the recommended number of IVF cycles. Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said the provision of fertility treatment in the UK was 'totally intolerable' and blamed variation across NHS Trusts in the criteria used to determine access to fertility treatment. 'We are angry that although the UK pioneered infertility treatment, we are still among the lowest providers in Europe,' she said.

Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust, said that there was no reason that the UK should be lagging behind the rest of Europe in its funding of infertility treatment: 'There is the political will for funding IVF, there are skilled doctors and nurses keen to treat more patients and there are women desperate for treatment,' she said. However, Dr Andersen, who led the research, said that funding was not the only factor in explaining the rankings saying that the structure in the way IVF is delivered by each country is also a determining issue.

In a separate study, also presented at the ESHRE conference, it was shown that multiple embryo transfers is commonplace in mainly Eastern European countries. The idea was raised that hundreds of British women may be travelling to such countries in the belief that multiple embryo transfers during IVF will increase their chances of conceiving. In 2006, double embryo transfers made up over 60 per cent of transfers in Bulgaria and the Ukraine. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is promoting a single embryo transfer policy based upon safety concerns that multiple embryo transfers lead to a higher rate of multiple pregnancies, which are associated with premature birth and subsequent health problems. Mothers also face a greater health risk when carrying more than one child. Commentators believe that the lack of funding for IVF on the NHS may be persuading couples to seek treatment abroad and they could be exposing themselves to health risks in doing so.

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