The UK supermarket chain Asda is to become the first to sell IVF drugs without profit, saving patients up to £820 per treatment cycle. The move is part of the retailer's bid to become the most competitive pharmacy in the UK.
Asda's chief pharmacist, John Evans, hopes the discounted price will help improve access to IVF. 'We know that an IVF postcode lottery means many women will have to pay for additional cycles of treatment. IVF is extremely expensive and 40,000 women [in the UK] go through it every year,' he said.
A combination of up to eight different drugs are needed prior to stimulate egg production in a woman's ovaries prior to IVF. Asda, whose customers are 80 per cent women, claims that the drugs can cost patients up to £2000 from independent pharmacies, the Metro newspaper reported. According to the retailer's own research, 63 per cent of people do not know that private prescription prices vary between pharmacies, while 92 per cent had never compared prices between private prescription drugs.
The decision to charge only £1,171.41 for the IVF drugs was welcomed by Infertility Network UK. Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of the patient organisation said: 'Many patients who should be eligible for NHS treatment are being forced to pay for private treatment […]. Infertility is an illness and patients deserve a fair and equitable treatment for it'.
A Department of Health spokesperson declined to make a statement on the cost of private drugs but referred to the progress the NHS is making in implementing the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines: 'Our figures show that 30 per cent of PCTs are providing three cycles of IVF, 23 per cent two cycles and 47 per cent one cycle. This shows significant improvements, with only two trusts out of 150 not routinely providing infertility treatment in England.'
In 2004 the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence published guidelines recommending that women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS. Inconsistencies in the criteria used by PCTs to decide who gets NHS-funded IVF treatment have been blamed for the so-called 'IVF postcode lottery', meaning that whether a woman receives payment for all three cycles depends on where she lives. Many trusts claim financial constraints make it impossible for them to meet IVF targets at present.