Basildon and Brentwood CCG is proposing to cut its provision of fertility treatment for new and existing patients.
The proposal is part of a wider package of cuts to services aimed at reducing the CCG's £14m budget deficit for 2016-17. If implemented, fertility procedures, including IVF and the storage of gametes for cancer patients, would no longer be funded except under exceptional circumstances.
Other services at risk under its Service Restriction Policy include male and female sterilisation, routine cosmetic and bariatric surgery and prescriptions for gluten-free food and e-cigarettes.
Sarah Norcross, commissioning editor of BioNews and co-chair of Fertility Fairness, which campaigns for fair and equitable access to NHS-funded fertility treatment, said: 'The announcement today is appalling. For people not to realise it is a health need is, I think, insulting to all those facing fertility problems.'
However, John Leslie, of the Basildon and Brentwood CCG, said: 'We have a legal duty to live within our means.'
The CCG, which currently offers the full three cycles of IVF recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), states that no decision has yet been made following its 2015 consultation on its proposal to cease funding fertility treatment altogether, which requires approval by the CCG Board (see also BioNews 826).
However, if the decision were to be approved, then the CCG said it would continue to fund the diagnosis of fertility problems, but patients who have not already been referred will no longer be able to be referred. It is currently consulting on its proposals to cut funding for existing patients who have already been referred for fertility treatment or who are already receiving treatment.
Under the proposals for existing patients, those who are currently receiving IVF would only be funded to complete their current cycle and would not be offered any further treatment that they may have been eligible for under the CCG's existing policy.
Susan Seenan, co-chair of Fertility Fairness, said: 'Fertility Fairness is appalled at what Basildon and Brentwood clinical commissioning group is proposing. You cannot tell patients they will receive treatment and then remove their chance of having a baby from them. To do so is unethical and distressing in the extreme.'
NICE recommends that eligible patients under 40 years old receive up to three cycles of IVF treatment. However, although the body is responsible for issuing evidence-based recommendations on the provision of health service, the guidelines are not mandatory, and many CCGs offer less, with some offering no provision at all. The latest data from Fertility Fairness shows that less than one in five CCGs in England currently offer the full three cycles, a fall of seven percent since 2013.
On its website, Basildon and Brentwood CCG adds that its decision 'supports transparency and equity of approach to the population' and 'reduces the perception that for some people we are funding fully in line with NICE Guidance whilst for others not supporting funding at all'.