Draft guidelines aimed at standardising the government-funded provision of fertility treatment in the UK triggered media speculation last week. The first version of the recommendations being developed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggest offering up to six IVF attempts to women under forty, according to a report in the Daily Mail. The newspaper said that if the NHS took over all IVF treatments currently carried out in private clinics, it would cost around £400 million per year. However, NICE stressed that no final decisions had yet been taken, and that it expects to publish a final guideline next February.
The new recommendations are being developed to address the current 'postcode lottery' of fertility treatment available on the NHS. According to the draft guidance, three attempts with fresh embryos and three with frozen ones offer the best chance of pregnancy, a process which could take up to two years. Fertility doctor Ian Craft welcomed the proposals, saying that it was 'a sadness' that although the first IVF twins were a result of NHS treatment, other people have had to pay for the procedure since then. But Sammy Lee, of the fertility unit at the Homerton Hospital, London, said that although the idea was 'wonderful' in principle, it could put further strain on an already stretched NHS budget.
In a press release, NICE said that it was 'aware of speculation in the media about the recommendations the guideline might make regarding the number of cycles of treatment and age cut off'. But chief executive Andrew Dillon said that there were two consultation periods during the development of new clinical guidelines, so 'recommendations in draft versions of the guideline may change before final guidance is published'. NICE expects to publish the second draft of its recommendations on its website on 26 August.