The government’s NHS care watchdog has found that women throughout England are being denied fertility treatments and NICE recommended care because NHS trusts need to cut costs.
Previous studies have found that fewer than 1 in 5 NHS groups are paying for the recommended number of IVF cycles before suggesting that women look at private healthcare or alternative options, with the worst IVF provisions being offered throughout the South.
In some areas, women are refused IVF altogether – such as those living in the Vale of York. Other clinical commissioning groups, such as Mid Essex, are no longer providing fertility services except in ‘exceptional clinical circumstances’. However, in just over half of England the commissioning groups offer 1 cycle of IVF, when NICE quality standards state that they should offer 3 full cycles for women under 40.
This is discouraging news when 1 in 7 heterosexual couples are affected by infertility. While the NHS does need to cut costs, infertility is a recognised medical condition and treatment is part of the core service the NHS should provide. NICE have said that it is an ‘unacceptable’ state of affairs, while fertility support groups are hopeful that this news will push the NHS to reconsider the approach to fertility and urge commissioning clinics to provide more cycles to infertile couples.
Professor Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Health and Social Care at NICE has stated that infertility can have a ‘devastating effect on people’s lives’ including depression, severe distress, and break up of relationships, which is why it is ‘unacceptable that parts of England are choosing to ignore NICE guidelines.’
Despite frequent investigations and condemnations, there has been no improvement in the funding available for assisted conception in England and many areas are actually worse off than they were several years ago despite increasing rates of infertility.