29 October 2009
Appeared in BioNews 532The 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.
The inquiry revealed that average waiting lists varied between 400 in Lothian (a three year wait after referral) and zero in the Scottish Borders (with patients receiving treatment within six months). Fife had 180 (a 26 month queue) and Glasgow and Clyde a 22 month delay. The worst figure - quoted by NHS Lothian - was however explained in a statement by its director of strategic planning and modernisation as resulting from the board offering three cycles of IVF, in line with guidelines established by the Scottish Government's Expert Advisory Group of Infertility Services in Scotland (a policy not yet implemented by most other boards).
The Minister for Public Health in Scotland, Shona Robinson, has stressed that the government is attempting to 'make access as fair as possible' but Ms Baillie pointed out that 'patients coming from another health board area to a specialist centre can be treated quicker than my constituent who lives in the health board area with the specialist centre. Surely this cannot be fair?'. Similarly Ms Baillie points out that there is a policy disparity with NHS Borders being willing to fund patients to receive treatment in another board area if the waiting list there is shorter, while other areas do not fund patients to seek treatment outside of their own facilities. Ms Robison also noted that while 'some boards have still got progress to make' she still believed that 'a lot of progress has been made'.
Looking to the future Ms Robinson outlined future initiatives aimed at reducing discrepancies in treatment based on location: 'We are funding Infertility Network Scotland - an organisation of past and present patients - to work with boards to ensure fairer access. Together they will consider the best ways to address waiting times and local differences in access to treatment. We're also setting up the Expert Group on Infertility to make recommendations on issues including waiting times. Within six months I expect them to submit an interim report to me and I expect to see quick progress on the ground too'.