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Third of GPs back end to NHS IVF funding

15 February 2016
Appeared in BioNews 839

A third of general practitioners believe that the NHS should not fund IVF treatment, according to a recent poll.

The survey, conducted by the publishers of the medical magazine Pulse, and involving 1158 healthcare professionals, also revealed that a quarter of nurses and a third of healthcare commissioners felt that IVF should not be provided by the NHS.

One female GP, speaking anonymously to Pulse, commented: 'It is very complex, but personally I don't think infertility is a disease. I appreciate for some people it is and it's very stressful. But it concerns me that people feel that having a child is a right.'

Three-quarters of the professionals surveyed agreed that there should be a public debate over what medical treatments should be available from the NHS. The majority of respondents (75 percent) also said that homeopathy should not be offered, while around 40 percent stated that neither chiropody, acupuncture or osteopathy should not be provided by the health service.

Commissioners are currently tasked by NHS England and the Government to identify £22 billion in efficiency savings over the next five years.

Around one in six UK couples have problems conceiving naturally and a privately funded cycle of IVF typically costs around £5000.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), advises that eligible women under the age of 40 be offered three cycles of IVF if they have not conceived naturally after two years. But some CCGs, such as Mid Essex CCG, no longer offer IVF at all, and many others now restrict treatment to one cycle despite being told by NICE to end geographical disparities in access to treatment (see BioNews 754 and 777).

Figures published recently by Fertility Fairness, which campaigns for equal access to IVF on the NHS, reveal that fewer than one in five CCGs are meeting the NICE guideline in full (see BioNews 826).

Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC's prescribing committee, told Pulse: 'When there is pressure on what you might call basic services, it's fairly understandable that people look to things that aren't life or limb and think "well that should be cut".'

However, he continued: 'If you look at the unhappiness, distress and indeed depression that can come from having difficulty starting families, it is difficult to say they should not receive treatment.'

Dr Richard Kennedy, gynaecologist and president-elect of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, was more critical, saying: 'The views of these doctors goes against the view of the World Health Organisation, which says that the ability to have a family is a human right.'

He added: 'The suggestion that infertility is not a disease is also fundamentally incorrect, with three quarters of infertility stemming from a medical condition. To reduce funding for fertility treatment, even in these constrained times, would not be appropriate. The provision for IVF in the UK is already well below the average for Europe, without reducing it further.'

Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of fertility clinic Create Fertility, argued that the expense of IVF was worsened by the variation in how much fertility clinics charge the health service. 'If this cost was standardised,' she claimed, 'it would reduce financial pressure on the NHS.'

Fertility Fairness has claimed that one of the barriers to many CCGs becoming NICE-compliant is the cost of IVF services. There is currently no national tariff in England for tertiary fertility services meaning that some CCGs are paying as much as £6000 for a single cycle of IVF while others are paying £1379.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
How doctors want to save the NHS: Stop funding IVF, charge drunks for treatment and make weight loss surgery patients pay for themselves
Mail Online |  5 February 2016
One third of GPs think NHS should stop funding IVF
Pulse |  5 February 2016
One third of GPs think NHS should stop funding IVF
Cogora (press release) |  5 February 2016
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