IVF treatment has been restricted or stopped completely in 13 areas across England this year in a bid to save money, new data shows.
The cutbacks go against National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which recommend 3 cycles of IVF for women under the age of 40 who have been trying to conceive for 2 years.
The data, provided by Fertility Network UK, also shows a 46% decrease since 2013 in the number of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) offering 3 full cycles of IVF, from 50 to 27.
Professor Simon Fishel, who helped to pioneer IVF in the UK, said he was concerned by the ‘local variation’ in cuts.
‘You have to treat citizens equally and this is a deliberate inequality and obfuscation and allows some areas to say they are offering IVF but when it comes down to the detail, only a tiny fraction of those who need it have access to it,’ he said.
Fertility Network UK says 8 other areas in England are considering taking similar steps.
In Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire – where couples can receive just one free fertility cycle before the age of 40 – GP-led groups are proposing restricting IVF treatment to women aged 30 to 35, a move which would be unprecedented in the UK.
Dr Gary Howsam, Chair of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, another area considering cutbacks, commented: ‘We are now in the difficult position where we have to evaluate every service we commission.
‘[We have] been consulting on a proposal to stop routinely commissioning any specialist fertility services other than for two specified exceptions. The exceptions are fertility preservation for patients who have a condition requiring treatment that has a significant likelihood of making them infertile, and sperm washing for men who have a chronic viral infection.’
A petition in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is calling for the CCG to scrap its plans, which campaigners say would save ‘a very small amount of money’.
Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK, Susan Seenan, said the situation in England is ‘in stark contrast to that in Scotland’ where women are able to get 3 full cycles of NHS-funded IVF treatment.
‘England pioneered IVF approaching 40 years ago, but that achievement literally means nothing if only those who can afford to pay for IVF benefit from it,’ she added.
An NHS England spokesperson commented: ‘Ultimately these are decisions for Clinical Commissioning Groups, who are under an obligation to balance the various competing demands on the NHS locally while living within the budget parliament has allocated.’