Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has announced that its provision of NHS-funded IVF will be reduced from two cycles to one. It has also said that IVF will no longer be available to people where one partner has a child from a previous or current relationship.
The CCG says that its new IVF eligibility criteria, which will come into practice in April this year, are part of an effort to reduce waiting times for fertility treatment from three to two years. However, the decision to limit access to fertility treatment is not in keeping with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance, which although not mandatory, is based on cost and clinical effectiveness.
The NICE fertility guidelines, issued in 2004 and revised in 2013, state that all eligible couples, in which a woman is under the age of 40, should receive three cycles of IVF. Further, women aged 40-42 may access one full IVF cycle, provided that certain criteria are met. A CCG must provide clear reasons for any policy that does not follow NICE's recommendations.
Yet, despite being told to end the IVF 'postcode lottery' by NICE (see BioNews 754), fewer than one in five CCGs are fully compliant with the guidance (see BioNews 826).
Fertility Fairness, which campaigns for equal access to NHS-funded fertility services in the UK, says the disparity in the provision of NHS fertility services in England is widening and that the south west of England has the lowest provision of fertility services. CCGs in Cornwall, Devon, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Dorset, and now Somerset are all offering just one funded IVF cycle.
Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, the charity which publishes BioNews, and co-chair of Fertility Fairness, said: 'The south west is now a fertility blackspot. In the south west region, 90 percent of CCGs offer just one funded cycle of IVF; across England as a whole, 57 percent of CCGs offer one cycle of NHS-funded fertility treatment.'
Figures produced by Fertility Fairness show that between 2013 and 2015 the number of CCGs offering three cycles has fallen from 24 percent to 18 percent, while those offering one cycle increased from 49 percent to 57 percent.
Somerset CCG said that it will review its fertility policy after two years.