Figures indicate that the NHS budget cuts have resulted in large numbers of infertile women being denied the cycle of IVF treatment they should have.
According to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, the NHS should offer couples with a defined cause for infertility, three cycles of IVF. The three cycles should also be available to females under the age of 40 with ‘unexplained infertility’. These guidelines are voluntary and hospitals have the right to impose their own rules.
Figures which have been obtained from England’s 211 Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) indicate that the number offering these three cycles has declined from 48 or 23% during last year to 38 or 18% this year. The number of CCGs offering only one or two cycles has increased from 149 or 71% last year to 171 or 81%.
The lobby group IVFYes.org said that it costs the NHS around £3435 for one round of IVF, which is half the average cost of private treatment.
GPs have stated that the reduction in the availability of treatment was caused by pressure being placed on CCGs to prioritise costs. A former chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, Dr Laurence Buckman, said this is an unfair and sad situation for hundreds of couples, but it boils down to CCGs being forced to make these difficult choices. The ultimate choice for them is to decide whether they will go over budget for a hip replacement or cataract surgery, or if they will refuse another round of IVF treatment.
A South London GP, Dr Louise Irvine, who is preparing to stand for the National Health Action (NHA) party against Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, during next year’s election, said that guidance from NICE does not have any funding linked to it and it is the responsibility of the CCGs to manage funding. She said the ultimate responsibility remains with central government.
The Department of Health stated that it was expected of CCGs to consider the guidance offered by NICE and to abide by it.
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