Bedfordshire CCG currently provides one NHS-funded cycle for eligible patients. Current guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that eligible patients under the age of 40 should be offered three fully funded IVF or ICSI cycles.
Although NICE has sought to remind CCGs of its evidence-based recommendation to fund treatment (see BioNews 754 and 777), the guidance is not mandatory and the number of cycles offered by CCGs differs across the country. CCGs may choose to not to offer funding for IVF, but they must give reasons for their decision (see BioNews 751).
A spokeswoman from the Bedfordshire CCG stated that they were 'not considering a blanket ban on any of these services, as in any event, provision would be made for special medical exceptions.'
Sarah Norcross, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust, which publishes BioNews, countered this argument on BBC Radio 5 Live. She questioned how the CCG would decide what constituted a special medical exception, arguing that these exceptions would be so rare that they would operate as a blanket ban in practice.
According to its spokeswoman, Bedfordshire CCG is evaluating fertility treatment in order to 'ensure good quality, good outcomes, value for money and … [an] equitable way of allocating resources.' As there is no standardised cost, each cycle of IVF can cost the NHS between £1,400 and £6000.
Susan Seenan, Fertility Fairness co-chair said: 'We are calling on the government to act now to make it clear that, while clinical commissioning groups have to operate within their financial budgets and consider the needs of their local healthcare population, they should not be implementing blanket restrictions on services.'
Bedfordshire CCG is not the first to consider removing all funding for IVF treatment. Mid-Essex CCG, North-East Essex CCG, and South Norfolk CCG have already stopped funding IVF or ICSI cycles.
Fertility Fairness has previously presented data showing that only 17 percent of CCGs in England offer the recommended three NHS-funded cycles.