We’re often told that IVF is not a terribly successful treatment, that 75% of cycles won’t work – and this is sometimes cited by people who don’t agree that the NHS should fund fertility treatment. Earlier this week, I went to the event at Westminster organised by campaign group Fertility Fairness where there were some compelling arguments about the clinical and cost effectiveness of funding three full cycles of IVF as recommended by NICE.
One of the speakers at the event, Tim Child from Oxford Fertility Unit, presented some figures from his clinic for IVF success rates for the NHS patients they treat aged under 37 who were getting the three full cycles of IVF recommended by NICE. The statistics showed an 80% cumulative success rate over three full cycles. So, the majority of patients will be successful when NICE guidance is followed – which isn’t what we are often led to believe. What is sometimes forgotten when CCGs talk about funding for fertility is that they don’t need to pay for three full cycles for every patient – as more people get pregnant with each transfer, the number of additional payments needed diminishes – and yet calculations often seem to be based on the idea that every patient will need the three full cycles.
Infertility Network UK‘s Chief Executive Susan Seenan, who is also Co-Chair of Fertility Fairness along with Sarah Norcross, spoke about the realities of the impact of CCGs policies on fertility funding for patients. She told of one patient who was unable to access the treatment she needed because her partner had a child from a previous relationship. The “child” was in fact a 25 year old who lived abroad, but this still meant that the couple were denied treatment.
Today’s Woman’s Hour, on BBC Radio Four, featured the story mentioned here yesterday about home sperm tests in a discussion with Tim Child from Oxford Fertility Unit and journalist Victoria Lambert. As expected, the official line on home sperm testing is that you are far better off going to your GP and having it done properly, but the discussion also raised some wider issues.
Jenni Murray seemed quite genuinely surprised when Tim Child referred to infertility as a disease; it’s the idea that not being able to have children is somehow more about lifestyle that fuels the arguments about not funding treatment so it was good to hear Tim Child explain it so clearly.
The other big issue that came up during the discussion was the idea that infertility was somehow a woman’s problem – Victoria Lambert pointed out that although a number of female celebrities have now come out of the closet about their struggles to conceive, there aren’t similar numbers of male celebrities discussing their fertility problems – despite the fact that a fertility problem is just as likely to be down to the male partner as to the female.
I was particularly pleased to hear education being addressed – it’s so true that we focus all our attention on preventing pregnancy when we talk to teenagers about sex education, but in reality the odds show that they are far more likely to have a fertility problem in the future than to get pregnant at 15. Even now, some women are surprised to discover that fertility treatment can’t turn back the biological clock – and it’s a message we need to get across.
It was good to hear these issues aired during National Infertility Awareness Week – if you didn’t hear the programme, you can still catch it here – we must just hope that raising awareness will have a longer-term effect on attitudes and understanding.
The tests, which cost £30 and take ten minutes, claim to give you the opportunity to check whether a man’s sperm is “normal” or “low”. Although the test is apparently not bad at checking the number of sperm in the sample, what it can’t do is test how healthy they are – which is not ideal as having lots of sperm doesn’t necessarily mean that they are capable of fertilising an egg if the majority are abnormal.
Most family doctors will carry out a free sperm test if there are problems conceiving, and as this should be far more accurate I am not quite sure why you’d want to spend £30 on doing it at home when it will be far less accurate – but let’s see what the experts have to say about it tomorrow!