BBC4, Wednesday 9 Jan 2013
The BBC's hour-long documentary 'The Baby Makers: The Fertility Clinic' followed the ups and downs of both patients and staff at one of Britain's largest fertility centres - the Hewitt Fertility Centre in Liverpool.
I was immediately impressed – this is both an entertaining and informative documentary. Led by the clinic's lead gynaecologist Professor Charles Kingsland, the viewer is taken on a journey through the various stages of IVF treatment from pre-treatment screening and advice to the attaching of the fertilised egg onto the wall of the uterus and then the wait to see if a pregnancy results.
We are told at the outset that the chances of success are low (approximately 30 percent for women under 35) and that most women only get one or two cycles of IVF on the NHS, and it was hard not to be drawn in by the emotionally charged atmosphere of the clinic.
No one truly knows what it is like to go through fertility treatment until they experience it themselves. Yet it is not hard to empathise. During the documentary we see that one couple are successful in their treatment, another three are not. Unfortunately, this reflects the reality of fertility treatment.
As the documentary shows, some couples produce more viable embryos than others. Those that produce a small number are immediately placed at a disadvantage. Most couples will have the option to cryopreserve embryos for future transfers, but for some couples this may never be an option due to the low number or poor quality of the eggs or sperm harvested.
For this reason it is essential that couples be given the chance to receive three full cycles of IVF on the NHS as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Each cycle should include the transfer of any stored embryos.
This makes a lot of sense and has been proven to be cost-effective. Yet even now, almost a decade after the publication of the national guideline on fertility, IVF continues to be rationed.
In 2011, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility published a report detailing levels of provision throughout the country. It found that over 70 percent of NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) were not providing the recommended three cycles of IVF to eligible couples. To make matters worse, a number of PCTs continue to operate strict access criteria in order to limit the number of referrals to the clinics.
This is very disappointing when you consider that ultimately infertility is a disease. As Professor Kingsland says: 'If you look at the definition of disease, it is an abnormality of easiness. And one of the things you notice about men and women that want to have children and who can't have children - they are diseased. And any disease is worthy of treatment. And ideally, in this country, I believe diseases should be treated free at the point of access within the NHS'.
Whilst statements such as this will come as no surprise to those working in the NHS, others amongst the general public might be more surprised. When it comes to fertility treatment, many misconceptions still exist; for some IVF continues to be regarded as something of a luxury or even a lifestyle choice.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I commend the BBC for producing a programme that attempts to tackle such stigma and hopes that this issue is not forgotten over the coming months amidst the wider shake-up of the NHS.
Although the programme has now been taken off of the BBC's online streaming service, 'The Baby Makers: The Fertility Clinic' is available on YouTube for those that have yet to see it.