Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Health bosses have extended the age at which women in north Essex can receive fertility treatment funded by the NHS.
As of next year, women struggling to conceive naturally will be able to have IVF treatment up to the age of 42 rather than the current age limit of 39.
The decision has been made by the board of the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (NEE CCG) after new guidelines were announced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence earlier this year.
It says the age extension has been introduced in view of social trends and to meet public expectations.
Under the new arrangements, couples must have been trying to have a baby for three years to qualify for treatment. But they will only be able to receive two IVF treatments rather that the three currently offered.
According to Dr Jo Broadbent, a consultant in public health at the CCG, the number of treatments being offered has been lowered to ensure budgets are kept in line with the £580,000 that is currently spent annually on IVF treatments in north Essex.
She said: “The CCG felt that the age extension would broaden access to IVF to more couples at a time that is right for them, and took into consideration public expectations and social trends.
“We had to come to a decision by December and with the time frame we were working to we couldn’t hold a full public consultation. But we wanted to gauge opinion and did talk to a number of groups, including GP patient groups and the Maternity Liaison Services Committee, which is made of people who provide maternity services, such as midwives, and members of the public who have an interest in this area.”
“We looked at the clinical effectiveness of IVF but were also aware that IVF is different to a lot of other areas of medical care and asked social and ethical questions.”
According to Dr Broadbent, an average of 185 IVF treatments were funded by the NHS each year between 2010 and 2013. She added that extending the age range did not increase health risks and that conditions like obesity in the mother were more likely to result in miscarriages.
But Christine Harrison, a senior organiser at the Homestart family centre in Harwich, said couples considering trying for a baby past their forties should think hard about the impact a new addition to the family might have on their lives.
She said: “Every couple has to be taken as an individual case and some older couples may have been trying for a baby for a long time. But in my experience, older mothers find it hard going when a baby arrives.
“They are more likely not to be geared up for it when they have a baby late. They have been used to doing what they want, when they want, and then they face a dramatic life change. Older mothers sometimes struggle to deal with the isolation that can come with motherhood and miss the adult company they used to get at work.”
She added: “It’s important for older mothers to find people in the same situation, so they can support each other.”