The NHS board for the region of Fife in Scotland will no longer provide fertility treatment to couples if either of them smokes, or if the woman is overweight. The Board's announcement of its new policy came in the same week as the Scottish Government pledged to invest £12 million over the next three years to reduce waiting times for infertility treatment across Scotland.
'Patients will receive up to two treatment cycles', Dr Brian Montgomery, NHS Fife medical director told the BBC. 'Both partners must be non-smokers and the female body mass index should be less than 30kg/m²'.
Justifying the new rules, which will come in to force on 1 October, Dr Montgomery told the Herald Scotland: 'If a woman smokes or is exposed to secondary smoke there is an increased likelihood that IVF treatment may be unsuccessful. Furthermore, smoking or exposure to secondary smoke carries well-recognised risks for both the unborn child and the mother. Stop-smoking support is available from couples across the three community health partnerships in Fife'.
NHS Fife joins NHS Forth Valley and NHS Borders as the third Scottish NHS board to have a requirement for both partners to be non-smokers.
Talking to the BBC, Gemma Burns, Scottish branch coordinator for the charity Infertility Network UK, said the changes were 'bad news' for IVF patients.
She added that new national guidelines on fertility treatment were due to be published by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence at the end of the year.'To make this decision, without any consultation or warning, whilst we are so close to the end of this important review, is beyond belief', said Burns.
Infertility Network UK has called on the Scottish Government to ask health boards to wait for the new guidelines to come out before any changes are made to fertility treatment policy. The charity also wants the government to offer potential IVF patients who smoke more help to quit.
Two days after NHS Fife announced the changes, the Scottish Government pledged to invest £12 million over the next three years to help cut waiting times for fertility treatment. The money was allocated as part of the Government's spending plans announced by the John Swinney, the Scottish Finance Minister.
Michael Matheson, the Minister for Public Health, said: 'This funding will enable NHS boards to invest in their IVF services, and will help to achieve our twelve month waiting times commitment, which will ensure that eligible patients have equity of access for this treatment'.
'This will mean, for the first time ever in Scotland, all eligible patients will receive treatment within twelve months of being diagnosed as requiring IVF'.
Nonetheless, some NHS boards - including NHS Fife - have recently said that they will be cutting the number of cycles patients can receive from three to two.