The decision means that women and couples in Braintree, Maldon, and Chelmsford will have to pay to receive fertility treatment at private clinics. Mid Essex CCG had previously funded three cycles of IVF for infertile couples, meeting the national guidelines as set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
The CCG, which says it is one of the most financially challenged organisations in England, has made the cuts as part of a drive to save money.
Dr Caroline Dollery, who chairs Mid Essex CCG, said: 'It has been an incredibly tough decision for the CCG Board to make as we aware it will be a huge disappointment for people affected by fertility issues in mid Essex. But at this moment in time the CCG needs to make £8 million in savings and further savings next year'.
The decision has been met with outrage from organisations campaigning for equal access to fertility treatment.
'What the CCG has done is totally appalling. Infertility has a huge impact on people’s lives, and denying them access to medical treatment which can help is cruel, unfair, and totally unjustified', said Susan Seenan, chief executive of patient charity Infertility Network UK. 'In a national health service, no one should be denied medical help because of where they live, and yet that is exactly what mid Essex CCG has done'.
'We urge the CCG to reinstate services at the first opportunity', said Sarah Norcross, co-chair of campaign group Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust, the organisation that publishes BioNews. 'The cost of fertility treatment is a tiny fraction of this CCG's total annual budget but it is viewed as a line in the budget that is easy to cut'.
Fertility clinics in Essex also spoke of their disappointment, with some labelling the decision a 'devastating blow'. 'The impact of this decision will undoubtedly cause immense heartbreak to many within our community', said Andy Glew, director of Chelmsford clinic Simply Fertility.
The CCG says it will continue to fund surgery and drugs for ovarian stimulation, but 'will only fund specialist fertility services in exceptional clinical cases' although it is unclear what the criteria will be. In July this year, the CCG published a proposal to offer fertility treatment solely to cancer patients and HIV-positive men (as reported in BioNews 764).
Dr Donald McGeachy, medical director of Mid Essex CCG, told ITV News: 'We have consulted with the public over the last 12 weeks. Most of them haven't agreed with what we've done, but equally we don't have a whole lot of other areas where we can try to save this money'.