The Lister Fertility Clinic in London is offering free fertility treatment to 21 couples to mark its 21st birthday and the opening of their newly expanded clinic. Mr Sam Abdalla, Medical Director of the clinic, said that the gesture was part of the clinic's 'duty to make treatment more accessible' and an ongoing commitment to offer a number of free cycles each year as part of the clinic's 'community programme.'
In a press statement, Mr Abdalla referred to the widespread failure of PCTs to offer the full three cycles of IVF treatment recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as 'scandalous'. He said: 'We believe that the full implementation of the NICE guidelines is long overdue... Age has the most profound effect on fertility treatment and therefore the longer patients wait, the lower their chances of having a baby.'
NICE guidelines issued in 2004 recommend providing three full cycles of IVF to infertile couples in which the woman is aged between 23 and 39, as well as the replacement of frozen embryos should the couple fail to conceive with fresh ones. However, a report published in August this year by Tory MP Grant Shapps concluded that eight out of 10 PCTs are not meeting this target.
Mr Abdalla commented that even patients with a lower than average chance of getting pregnant should still be allowed to decide for themselves whether and when they want to proceed with IVF treatment. He said: 'Clinics under the intense pressure of performance-related competitions such as League Tables may advise these patients to choose other modalities or to give up. We at The Lister believe that these decisions on how or whether to proceed with treatment should always remain with the patients, having been empowered with the information of their realistic chances of having a baby following treatment.'
Earlier this week Edwina Hart, the Welsh Health Minister, announced that women in Wales will be able to access two cycles of IVF paid for by the NHS from April next year. The Welsh government has been under pressure from lobbyists to match England's quota of three IVF cycles per patient, however, Ms Hart MP said the Health Committee was 'keen to increase the number of IVF treatment cycles available to women on the NHS within available resources' in order to ensure 'a fair, consistent policy for accessing this treatment'.
Infertility affects up to one in seven couples in the UK. It is estimated that that approximately three-quarters of IVF cycles carried out in the UK are paid for privately at a cost of £3,000 or more per cycle.