NHS groups in Suffolk and north-east Essex failing to offer couples recommended three IVF cycles
The harsh reality of the postcode lottery faced by couples in England struggling to conceive has been laid bare by a campaign group.
According to Fertility Fairness, the number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the country offering the recommended three in vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycles to eligible women has halved in the last four years.
North East Essex CCG is among seven CCGs that do not offer couples any IVF, while the three CCGs covering Suffolk provide two cycles.
National Institute for Heath and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that eligible couples should have access to three IVF cycles. However, these are only guidelines and it is up to CCGs to decide what to provide.
Sarah Norcross, co-chairwoman of Fertility Fairness, said the organisation was calling for “full implementation of the NICE guidelines, standardisation of eligibility criteria across England and the development of a national tariff in England for tertiary fertility services”.
North East Essex CCG cut IVF treatment in November 2015 for all couples except those with complex health needs.
A spokeswoman for the CCG said it “restricted the IVF service provision as it did not provide sufficient benefit to the overall health economy”.
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She added: “The CCG continues to face an increased demand on services. This has to be balanced against the need to find savings and maintain high quality services.”
Last year, West Suffolk CCG and Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG proposed to cut IVF treatment to save money, but they were later dropped.
A spokesman for the CCGs said: “Over 1,400 pieces of feedback were received and after listening to what people told us, no changes were made to IVF access.”
Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG reduced IVF treatment from three cycles to two in September 2016.
Rebecca Hulme, chief nurse, said: “We have a duty to make the best use of our finite resources in a way that maintains quality services and benefits the largest number of patients. This change still gives couples the chance to receive two cycles of treatment.”
Fertility Fairness is highlighting the issue to mark National Fertility Awareness Week.
A mother who became pregnant during her third round of IVF on the NHS has said it is “heartbreaking” to know other people in north-east Essex will not have the same opportunity.
Claire and Si Owen’s son, Arian, is now three years old.
The couple had IVF in Colchester in 2012 and 2013 and Arian was conceived on the third cycle.
Mrs Owen said she and her husband wouldn’t have been able to afford to have the treatment privately.
In 2015, North East Essex CCG stopped routinely offering IVF to couples.
“To find out you potentially couldn’t have children is hard enough then to have no help at all, I don’t know how we could have coped,” Mrs Owen said. “We would have had to get into debt.”
She added: “I’m so grateful to the NHS for giving us that opportunity and to hear other people won’t get that chance is heartbreaking.”
The family now live in Woodbridge.
Stevie Jean Hambelton-Smith
The parents of Ipswich Hospital’s first satellite IVF baby has said they almost gave up hope of having children.
Sarah Smith and Cherry Hambelton returned to the hospital this month with their daughter, Stevie Jean Hambelton-Smith, now three months old.
Ms Smith said: “We look at her every day and feel so blessed. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we may never become parents.”
Last year the hospital joined forces with two of the country’s top fertility centres - in Cambridge and London - to offer satellite IVF services. It means patients have most of their treatment at Ipswich and the egg collection and embryo transfer at one of the specialist centres.
The couple had a series of failed fertility treatments before Stevie was born. They tried two cycles of intrauterine insemination (where healthy sperm selected in the lab are put into a women’s uterus when she is ovulating) and a course of IVF.
Ms Smith, who works at Ipswich Hospital, fell pregnant after a second round of IVF but suffered a miscarriage.
On their third attempt at IVF, Ms Smith became pregnant with twins. One baby died in utero at 20 weeks but Stevie survived.