A recent report by UK politicians has found widespread inconsistencies in the provision of fertility treatment by the NHS.
The report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on infertility, used freedom of information requests to gather data from 177 PCTs or the equivalent in the area. At the time the data was gathered, around a quarter of the 171 respondents offered the full three cycles of IVF recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), with five PCTs providing no fertility treatment whatsoever.
NICE recommends that couples in which the woman is between 23 and 39 years of age at the time of treatment should be eligible for IVF but some PCTs set the cut-off at 35, the report says.
The report also says many PCTs' restrictions extend to social criteria such as body weight and smoking status. Gareth Johnson, MP for Dartford and Chair of the APPG, said: 'In order for IVF treatment under the NHS to be truly available for infertile couples PCTs need to uphold not only the letter of the NICE guidelines but also the spirit'. He expressed his dismay that many PCTs are using arbitrary restrictions to withhold IVF as part of cost-saving measures.
The World Health Organisation and the Department of Health (DH) recognise infertility as a physical condition. But this opinion is not shared by NHS North Staffordshire, which does not fund fertility treatment. It responded to the report saying: '[Infertility] does not affect general physical health or life expectancy and as such is not scored, by a clinically-led panel, as one of our health priorities'.
Susan Seenan, of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, said it was 'unacceptable' that some PCTs are failing to fund IVF. 'The [NICE] guidance was based on clinical, as well as cost, effectiveness', she said.
The DH has published guidance to help PCT commissioners implement NICE's recommendations and has urged compliance.