New proposals from Richmond Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) could see NHS-funded IVF treatment available only in 'exceptional circumstances', such as for patients with HIV, human immunodeficiency virus or cancer.
The London CCG has begun a period of public consultation on its proposals, which also include an option to leave the existing service as it is, with women aged 39 years or under being offered one fresh and one frozen cycle of IVF if they meet the clinical criteria.
In a statement, Richmond CCG said that it needs to save at least £13 million in the next financial year and is therefore considering where it 'can reduce NHS spending with the least impact possible for local people'.
Dr Graham Lewis, a local GP and the CCG's Clinical Chair, said: 'There is not enough money for us to do everything we would like to for people living in the borough of Richmond. We have to prioritise and make difficult decisions, including what level of IVF should continue to be funded, to secure the future of local NHS health services for everyone.'
He added that, while the number of people affected by a change in policy would be low, he recognised infertility as a 'significant area of concern' to anyone affected by it.
A number of CCGs elsewhere in the country have already taken the decision to cut NHS-funded IVF except in the most extreme circumstances – for example, where cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may opt to freeze their eggs or sperm before treatment, which can render them infertile, for use in IVF in the future.
While NICE has issued recommendations on how many cycles of IVF couples should receive on the NHS, the guidance is not mandatory and individual CCGs ultimately decide the criteria couples have to meet to qualify for funded treatment.
Charities that support infertile couples have criticised the so-called 'postcode lottery' that sees different areas of the UK offering different amounts of NHS-funded IVF treatment.
Susan Seenan from Fertility Network UK said: 'This is the country that pioneered IVF, where the first IVF baby was born, and we should be leading the way. Instead there is a postcode lottery and these blanket rules, which are unacceptable.'
People living in Richmond are invited to give their feedback on the proposals until 4 April.