Usually when we hear about changes to fertility funding, it means one thing – cuts to services. In South Norfolk, however, local commissioners who cut all funding for fertility treatment two years ago have now reviewed their decision and will offer two cycles to women under 39 and one cycle to eligible women aged 40-42.
It’s great news to see such a positive step for fertility patients and will bring hope to people in other areas of the country where funding for fertility treatment has been reduced or removed.
You can read local media coverage of this development here
The campaign group Fertility Fairness has produced a league table of different areas of the country to show how they rank when it comes to fertility treatment. Fertility Fairness has found that 90% of local clinical commissioning groups, who make the decisions about fertility treatment provision, found that nearly 90% were failing to provide the treatment that NICE has deemed to be both clinically effective and cost effective.
The BBC have provided a link to the full table in an article on the subject which shows that the best places to live if you need fertility treatment are Bury, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside and Glossop. In some areas couples who are experiencing fertility problems cannot access any treatment. These are Basildon and Brentwood, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Croydon, Herts Valleys, Mid Essex, North East Essex and South Norfolk.
Fertility Fairness Co-Chair Sarah Norcross has been doing media interviews this morning calling for the government to take urgent action about the current funding situation. The government has suggested that commissioners should follow NICE guidance but in practice many are still choosing to completely ignore the evidence about best practice and about cost-effectiveness leaving many patients unable to access treatment at all,
Fertility Network UK is inviting anyone facing fertility issues to an event at Westminster on 1 Nov from 4 – 6 pm to discuss fair funding for IVF.
Speakers include Peter Thompson from the HFEA, Paula Sherriff MP, Rebecca Manson Jones (Candidate for Women’s Equality Party), Geeta Nargund (Director of Create Fertility clinics) and patient campaigner Richard Clothier.
There are limited spaces for the event, and if you would like to attend you can find further details here
You may have seen the article in today’s Guardian about the cuts to fertility services across the UK in a bid to save money, and in particular the proposal from Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire to restrict fertility treatment to women aged 30-35. If you are affected by this and might be willing to talk to BBC radio about it, could you contact Alice on 0161 335 7502.
Thanks to Carole Bonner, Chair of Croydon Council’s health and social care scrutiny sub-committee, and her fellow members who have called on the government to stop cuts to all funding for IVF in the area. They sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, asking him to look at the decision to cut all funding made by the local Clinical Commissioning Group.
It is the first time that a decision has been challenged in this way and the Committee was concerned that the impact of the decision to remove access to fertility treatment would mean that those in the most deprived, low-income areas will be unable to afford to have IVF. A consultation carried out locally by the Clinical Commissioning Group showed that 77% of almost 800 respondents thought the funding should be retained.
Councillor Carole Bonner said “We’re making this referral because of the potential long-term adverse health effects the removal of IVF will have on Croydon residents. Not only can infertility result in family breakdown and the ending of relationships, it often has an impact on the mental health of those affected. A comprehensive study was carried out by Middlesex University and the Fertility Network that showed a clear correlation between infertility and depression, with 90% experiencing depression. The committee is acutely aware of, and has sympathy for, the CCG’s underfunding and the inconsistencies of the funding formula when compared to similar authorities. However, we feel that the effects of the withdrawal of IVF funding in Croydon are not in the best interests of the borough’s residents.”
Whatever the outcome, it is heartening to see a local Council appreciating the huge impact that cutting fertility services can have for a relatively small saving – so thanks to Croydon and let’s hope that others are inspired to follow their example.
We should all thank Steve McCabe, the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Selly Oak for raising the issue of NHS funding for fertility treatment in a Backbench Business Debate at Westminster supported by Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and Ed Vaizey, the MP for Didcot and Wantage. He’d been contacted by a number of constituents about the problems of the postcode lottery for fertility treatment, and called on the Health Secretary to investigate the cost disparities and the variations of IVF provision across England to find out why NICE guidance isn’t being followed universally.
The Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said that she would be writing to NHS England to ask that it communicates clearly with CCGs the expectation that NICE fertility guidelines should be followed by all.
It is a difficult time for the NHS which we know faces financial challenges, but stopping funding IVF would make little difference to the monetary woes – and indeed may actually end up costing far more if you factor in the long-term distress and depression caused by not being able to access treatment and the risk of patients having multiple embryo transfers overseas and returning with multiple pregnancies which can lead to health risks for both mother and baby.
The debate at Westminster was not well-attended, despite a big campaign by the charity Fertility Network and the campaign group Fertility Fairness. If you haven’t written to your MP about the problems of the postcode lottery yet, it is not too late. You can find details of how to find your MP and what to write on the Fertility Network website and if you are interested in watching the Westminster debate, you can find it here
If there are plans afoot in your local area to reduce the number of IVF cycles offered to those who need treatment, or even to cut treatment altogether, you may be left wondering whether there is anything you can do to make a difference. Although there are sometimes public consultations when funding is due to be cut or reduced, it can be tough to have the confidence to put forward your point of view – and sometimes it may start to seem as if there is very little point anyway as people wonder whether those who commission treatment are really listening.
This excellent piece from Bionews written by Richard Clothier tells how he fought back against planned cuts to fertility treatment in his local area. It’s a great read – and you may be surprised by the outcome.
Fertility services in Lancashire are under threat with all eight Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups(CCGs) proposing cuts to NHS-funded IVF. They have a survey which you can complete to make your feelings known about this – it needs to be done by tomorrow, October 14 – http://tinyurl.com/Assisted-Conception-Services
You may also want to write to your MP, as this may help to ensure the CCGs realise that the guidance from NICE which they should be following is both clinically effective and cost effective. Fertility Network UK have a draft email you can use, and if you wish you can add details of your own personal situation which will help to explain to your MP why this is so important – if you are able to help them see how your fertility problems make a difference to you emotionally, financially and socially this will really help. You can find the draft letter which you may wish to email, half way down this webpage http://infertilitynetworkuk.com/nhs_funding_2
The MPs for the areas covered by the eight Lancashire CCGs are: NHS Blackburn with Darwen CCG:
Kate Hollern MP
Jake Berry MP
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org NHS Blackpool CCG:
Paul Maynard MP
Gordon Marsden MP
Email: email@example.com NHS Chorley and South Ribble CCG:
Lindsay Hoyle MP
Seema Kennedy MP
Nigel Evans MP
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org NHS East Lancashire CCG:
Andrew Stephenson MP
Julie Cooper MP
Graham Jones MP
Email: email@example.com NHS Fylde & Wyre CCG:
Paul Maynard MP
Cat Smith MP
Ben Wallace MP
Mark Menzies MP
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org NHS Greater Preston CCG:
Mark Hendrick MP
Seema Kennedy MP
Ben Wallace MP
Nigel Evans MP
Email: email@example.com NHS Lancashire North CCG:
Cat Smith MP
Ben Wallace MP
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org NHS West Lancashire CCG:
Rosie Cooper MP
Seema Kennedy MP
The group who commission health services in Bedfordshire are consulting on whether to cut NHS fertility services entirely. It’s really important that patients should complete the consultation questionnaire if you want to help to try to stop this happening. The questionnaire needs to be filled in before July 24 and you can find the consultation here https://www.bedfordshireccg.nhs.uk/page/?id=4958
If you live in the area, do write to your local MP too and ask them to help prevent fertility care being cut altogether in the area. There is more information on the Fertility Fairness website and relevant contact details are
Richard Fuller MP (Bedford) email@example.com
Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP (North East Bedfordshire) firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Nadine Dorries MP (Mid Bedfordshire) firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Selous MP (South West Bedfordshire) email@example.com
I’m off to the South West for the day today – and am sad to note that it is one of the worst areas in the country when it comes to the provision of NHS-funded fertility treatment. Earlier this week, Somerset became the most recent area to cut IVF fertility treatment and offer just one single cycle of funded IVF.
When funding for fertility treatment is cut, the excuse is often that commissioners are only following what the public wants. However, Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have decided to cut fertility funding despite the fact when they carried out a public consultation, most people wanted them to offer three full cycles rather than cutting down to one. Sarah Norcross, Co-Chair of Fertility Fairness explains: ‘The CCG’s own consultation shows that the majority of people consulted (57 per cent) want three cycles of IVF to be funded and that the majority of those consulted (74 per cent) also said that the number of NHS-funded IVF cycles should not be reduced in order to balance the costs of reducing fertility treatment waiting times from three years to two. We are appalled to see patients and the public ignored and let down by Somerset CCG.
Susan Seenan, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and chief executive of leading fertility charity Infertility Network UK said: ‘Somerset CCG is also ignoring national public health guidance on treating the disease of infertility. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends that it is both clinically and cost effective that all eligible couples should receive up to three full NHS-funded cycles of IVF or ICSI where women are aged under 40. Reducing IVF provision will have a drastic impact on patients and the health economy. The pain and grief of fertility problems has severe social and economic consequences – leading to depression, social isolation and the breakdown of relationships.’
So why do Clinical Commissioning Groups so often decide that fertility patients don’t deserve the treatment NICE recommends? Why are so many cutting back? And what can we do to stop it? If your local provision is not good, writing to your MP or local Healthwatch will certainly help – look at the Infertility Network UK website for some template letters to assist with this, and do visit the Fertility Fairness website too for more information about provision across the UK and the campaign to improve it.