The UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is considering lifting its age limit for free IVF on the NHS, as part of a full review of its guidelines. Instead, women would be offered free IVF on the NHS if they had enough viable eggs.
This would mean women over 40 could receive free IVF on the NHS for the first time. Women between 23 and 39, who are currently eligible for three free cycles of IVF, meanwhile, could be denied it if their eggs are deemed unsuitable.
NICE is currently reviewing all its guidelines to ensure they comply with the Equality Act passed by the previous government, which aims to end age-related discrimination.
Fertility expert Dr Allan Pacey, from Sheffield University, described NICE's decision to review its IVF guidelines as: 'logical to move away from age guidelines to ovarian reserve. It is unfair now'.
His views were echoed by Dr Marco Gaudoin, medical director for the Glasgow centre for Reproductive Medicine. He said it was time NICE caught up with developments in reproductive medicine and believes the tests used to check how many viable eggs a woman has are an accurate indicator of fertility.
He continued: 'we see 40-year-olds who are not allowed treatment on the NHS and we find often that in fact they have a pretty good ovarian reserve and a good chance of successful treatment'.
But fertility doctor and vice-chairman of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Gillian Lockwood cautioned against some of the changes, saying: 'NICE seem to think that the best thing is to spend money on those with the best chance of a pregnancy; there is nothing fair about that at all'.
NICE will not finalise its new guidelines until 2012, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.