Scotland is set to expand the provision of publicly funded IVF, increasing the number of cycles for eligible patients from two to three.
Couples living with existing children from previous relationships will also be entitled to IVF on the NHS in Scotland, so long as one partner does not have a biological child.
The proposed changes follow recommendations made recently by Scotland's National Infertility Group, which has been tasked with examining the eligibility criteria for IVF. Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell confirmed that the Scottish Government would accept the proposals made in the report.
'For couples who are struggling to conceive it can be a very difficult time. IVF treatment can provide an opportunity to help them have that longed-for baby. We want to make sure that access to treatment on the NHS is as fair as it possibly can be,' she said during a visit to NHS Lothian's Edinburgh Fertility Reproductive Endocrine Centre.
'Over the last four years we have invested around £18 million to reduce IVF waiting times and improve the outcomes for patients undergoing this treatment,' Campbell added. 'I'm delighted to be able to announce today that we will begin work to change the eligibility criteria for IVF and expand access for more families across Scotland.'
The provision of IVF on the NHS in Scotland differs to that offered in the rest of the UK. In England, NICE recommends that eligible couples receive up to three cycles of IVF, but the guidance is not mandatory and many CCGs offer less, with some offering none at all (see BioNews 847). In Scotland, however, since 2013 all Health Boards must follow the same criteria. Wales and Northern Ireland also adopt their own policies.
'Scotland already leads the way on IVF access and rights in UK, and these changes will ensure Scotland's provision is as fair and generous as possible,' said Campbell.
'There is now a gulf between IVF funding in Scotland and England and the BFS is disappointed that there is still a postcode lottery for IVF treatment across England, with many CCGs offering fewer cycles and going against the current NICE guidance on this,' he said.
The Scottish Government rejected a recommendation to remove access to IVF where the woman is aged between 40 and 42 years old; these women will still be offered one cycle of treatment if other criteria are met.
Further work will be needed to set out a plan for the implementation of the changes.