Couples face fertility postcode lottery

By Ian Dipple Friday 25 April 2014 Updated: 25/04 08:55

COUPLES seeking help starting a family are facing a postcode lottery because commissioners continue to ignore national guidelines.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence originally issued guidance on fertility treatment in 2004 stating women under 40 years of age who have not conceived for two years should be offered three full cycles of IVF on the NHS. The recommendation was reconfirmed in updated guidance released in February, 2013.

But research by the National Infertility Awareness Campaign shows 73 per cent of clinical commissioning groups across England - which took control for buying in local healthcare services from PCTs in April last year - are ignoring the updated guidance by failing to offer the recommended number of cycles.

In Worcestershire couples are offered two cycles of treatment but in Birmingham they receive just one - meaning someone in Alvechurch receives a poorer deal than someone living less than five miles away in

Redditch because they are in different CCG areas. Couples in Studley and Alcester would receive just one NHS funded attempt under South Warwickshire CCG's policy while people would have to move to Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury or the Cotswolds to get the full recommendation of three IVF cycles.

Clare Lewis-Jones, chair of NIAC said: "It is now nearly ten years since the original NICE guideline was published and yet here we are, still facing a situation whereby the level of service is determined by postcode.

"NICE’s retention of the three cycle recommendation in its updated guideline in February 2013 should send a clear signal to commissioners as to the level of service patients should receive."

But a spokesman for the three Worcestershire CCGs said the guidance was not mandatory.

"In considering the implementation of NICE Guidelines the CCG must consider the financial implications

alongside all other competing healthcare demands," he said.

"In the development of our local policy, full consideration was given to all evidence based practice and also to clinical efficacy evidence to ensure the optimum use of healthcare resource."

A spokeswoman from Birmingham South Central CCG, which covers Alvechurch, said: "Locally, providers use the latest techniques which show a superior success rate compared to traditional IVF methods used. However, it is well recognised the chance of success decreases with successive cycles of IVF, which is why we offer one cycle."

She added they were looking to widen access to infertility treatment so more people would benefit by reducing the amount of time women have to wait to receive IVF from the time a couple starts trying for a baby from three years to two and reduce the eligible age from 23 to 20. Offering IVF to eligible single women and same sex couples is also being considered.

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