Update on fertility funding

A decision to cut IVF funding just a fortnight after the deputy Chief Executive of NICE made it clear that fertility guidelines were there to be followed shows just how badly the current system is failing fertility patients.  The guidelines for funding, set by NICE, are based on lengthy in-depth research and analysis of what is both clinically and cost effective for the NHS looking at all the available evidence, yet some local commissioners have decided to completely ignore this carefully researched guideline, instead coming up with their own ideas about what’s effective and what isn’t.

In East Anglia, clinical commissioning groups in West, North and South Norfolk, Norwich and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have reduced the number of cycles of IVF they fund without any formal consultation – or any formal announcement.  Last night, I went to talk to Susie Fowler-Watt about this on BBC Look East as they wanted to understand what the decision would mean to patients – and it’s clear it will be devastating, adding pressure and anxiety to those who are already living with the impact of fertility problems.

Let’s be clear – infertility is a medical condition, and IVF is an appropriate treatment for that medical condition. Not being able to conceive affects every area of your life, and can lead to isolation and depression, damaging relationships and friendships. Fertility funding is easy to cut because fertility patients are not going to be out there with placards shouting about it – many are unable to even talk about the corrosive effect it has on their lives, they may not even tell their closest friends and family. There’s still a stigma attached to infertility, and these kind of decisions add to that stigma.

We are meant to have a NATIONAL health service, but when it comes to fertility we have a postcode lottery where your access to the treatment you need for a medical condition depends entirely on where you live.

Susan Seenan, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK and Co-Chair of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, said last night: “NICE originally recommended 3 full cycles back in 2004; it is clear that 3 cycles is what is expected nationally and it has been proven to be the most clinically and cost effective number for commissioners to offer on the NHS. Indeed Gilian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, has recently confirmed that CCGs which don’t follow the guidance are exacerbating the problem of variation in care, which contradicts the fundamental aims of the NHS. Infertility doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the CCGs. We would urge them all to take heed of the guidance issued by NICE and reverse these decisions to ensure that access to fertility treatment is fair and equitable right across the country.”