The Scottish government has approved criteria which include new restrictions on access to state-funded IVF but which also aim to end the 'postcode lottery' faced by many couples with fertility problems.
The new criteria will be applied from 1 July 2013. Women under 40 will be offered two courses of IVF treatment funded by NHS Scotland. Those between 40 and 42 years old will qualify for one free cycle after a test to determine their 'ovarian reserve' - a measure of how many eggs they have left.
Michael Matheson, the public health minister, said: 'Currently, the service and criteria offered to women vary across the country. This is not acceptable. For the first time, NHS provision of IVF will not vary, regardless of where you live. All patients in Scotland will have access to a more generous and fairer service than elsewhere in the UK'.
But to qualify for the free IVF treatment women must have a body mass index between 18.5 and 30. Other requirements include patients being in long-term relationships, ideally co-habiting with their partner for two years before seeking treatment.
Both partners must not smoke for a minimum of three months before IVF treatment and continue as non-smokers during treatment. Alcohol is also off-limits to both during treatment.
People who need to make such lifestyle changes will be 'supported' in doing so and placed on a waiting list until they meet the criteria.
Ian Crichton, the National Infertility Group chairman, defended the restrictions: 'Using the latest clinical evidence available, we have done our best to balance the needs of couples and the resources available in recommending treatment that is both safe and effective'.
Overall, the Scottish government is investing £12 million to reducing IVF waiting times and increasing accessibility. The government hopes to guarantee a maximum treatment time of a year by March 2015.
Jackson Carlaw, a Scottish Conservative health spokesman commented: 'I welcome the proposals to monitor the lifestyles of people seeking fertility treatment, which can have a considerable impact on the success of IVF. It is only right that patients do what they can to improve the chances of cycles being effective'.