IVF for infertile couples ‘should be NHS priority’
The advice from the Expert Group on Commissioning NHS Infertility Provision, which was convened by health ministers this year, will put fresh pressure on the 95 per cent of primary care trusts (PCTs) that do not offer the three cycles of IVF recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
The panel proposes infertile couples should be offered wider and more consistent treatment on the NHS.
Its interim report comes as an NHS regional health authority has agreed for the first time to implement the NICE guidelines across all 14 of its trusts.
The decision by NHS East of England means infertile couples in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire will be entitled to three cycles of treatment from next April, provided they meet eligibility criteria.
Almost 45,000 cycles of IVF are performed in Britain each year – between one in six and one in seven couples are affected.
But limited NHS provision means the 75 per cent are conducted privately, at an average cost of £2,000 per cycle.
In 2004, NICE recommended PCTs should provide three cycles to women between 23 and 39, but a Department of Health survey in June found only 9 out of 151 PCTs in England met the standard.
The report says: “The provision of infertility treatment has not been seen as a traditional NHS service and, therefore, is often viewed as a relatively low priority compared to more visible conditions whose impact is well established.
“The group’s final report will seek to consider the often unseen consequences of infertility, including the impact on mental health and general wellbeing, which may draw on other NHS services for treatment, as well as the positive benefits of IVF.”
Health Minister Dawn Primarolo will now write to all PCTs to clarify NHS IVF cycles should include the replacement of frozen embryos as well as fresh ones, significantly improving some infertile couples’ chances of having a baby.
The group, made up of five NHS commissioning experts, will also recommend the NHS set a fixed price that PCTs would pay for IVF.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “It is appropriate for IVF to be considered carefully for inclusion on the national tariff.”
Mark Hamilton, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “This is a positive development. Clinicians and practitioners involved in infertility services are all aware that we are not just dealing with physical pathology.
“Infertility is a disease, but it also has fallout beyond that for a significant proportion of couples, causing mental health problems, depression, stress-related illnesses and so on.”
He added of the East of England decision: “It is a tremendous step forward that a region has seen the value of doing this, and I would hope that others will do the same. But there is certainly a view in the sector that central funding would solve an awful lot of problems.”