End to IVF postcode lottery

HEALTH chiefs last night announced an increase in NHS-funded IVF treatment for couples from April next year.

John Howard

HEALTH chiefs last night announced an increase in NHS-funded IVF treatment for couples from April next year.

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in the east of England have agreed a new policy that will offer more chances to childless couples, by raising the number of fertility treatment cycles that were previously offered within East Anglia.

The new rules mean that couples who experience difficulty in conceiving, who meet recommended eligibility criteria, will have the possibility of up to three treatments or cycles and a maximum of six embryo transfers in total.

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Currently PCTs across the region offer only one or two cycles of NHS funded IVF treatment and the new guidelines will mean consistency across the whole of the East of England NHS.

Peter Bradley, director of public health in Suffolk, said the treatment could benefit hundreds of couples every year and people would now have a higher chance of getting the child they dream of.

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Peter Greenwood, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and lead clinician for the Fertility Services Project Steering Group, said: “Around one in seven couples could be affected by infertility.

“The implications can be devastating for some, sometimes with unseen consequences for mental health and wellbeing. We are potentially offering a big improvement in the lives of many couples in the region, where IVF is clinically the right solution and has the potential to succeed.

“However, the treatment may not be the right answer for every couple. It involves a complex programme that can take up to a year and it is important that there are limitations where there may be clinical or other risks.

“Part of the treatment involves specialist counselling, so that couples have all the information and support that they need.

“Couples will be tremendously excited about this news. It has been very frustrating for people who cannot afford the big costs of going through private treatment if their one cycle with the NHS had not worked for them, leaving them worrying if they would ever have a child.

“This will transform many lives and will roughly treble their chances through the NHS.”

Trevor Myers, director of the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, said: “This new policy is the result of an extremely successful collaboration of clinical experts, NHS managers and patients that will ensure a much fairer approach across the region.”

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said: “I have been very impressed with the thoroughness of the approach by the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, especially with their understanding of infertility, their recognition that the inequity within the region was unacceptable, and their recognition of infertility as something deserving of NHS funding.”

The costs of the improved service were unclear last night, with health professionals reluctant to give commercially sensitive information ahead of tenders going out for the work.

Establishing the policy and achieving the agreement of all 14 PCTs in the region is the work of the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, which now has the responsibility of sourcing the new specialist fertility services on behalf of the trusts.

n Patients who are interested in finding out more about the new framework that will take effect from April 2009, should visit the website www.escg.nhs.uk

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