Members of the UK parliament have called upon the government to make fertility treatment available on the NHS to all couples in England and Wales with a proven need, regardless of where they live. Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infertility (APPGI) made their case in a debate held in parliament last Wednesday, asking for full and immediate implementation of the clinical guidance issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in February 2004. Then, on Thursday, a member of the Scottish Parliament, Mary Scanlon, called upon the Scottish Executive to do more to make infertility treatment available on the NHS to all Scottish couples with an established need.
The provision of fertility services was referred to NICE in 2000, as provision across the UK was 'inequitable' and 'patchy', leading many to claim that treatment was based on a 'postcode lottery'. The NICE guidelines, designed to set a national standard of service provision, stated that three cycles of IVF should be offered to all infertile couples meeting certain criteria. But, despite NICE's recommendation, Health Secretary Sir John Reid announced that by April 2005, couples meeting the NICE criteria will only be offered one free cycle of IVF. In addition, he said, NHS-funded IVF will only be available at first to couples who don't already have children living with them. The Health Secretary said that 'full implementation' was a goal for the long-term, but he has not yet committed to a timetable for this.
The UK's National Infertility Awareness Campaign (NIAC) has welcomed the renewed call from MPs for equitable provision of fertility services across the country. In a statement, it says that it looks forward to the 'first step towards full implementation' promised by Sir John Reid in April. But, it says, there are concerns that some PCTs may not meet this deadline, and it is working in conjunction with the APPGI to survey the level of progress being made.
Kevin Barron MP, chair of the APPGI, said that 'access to infertility treatment on the NHS is well known to be very patchy and treatment by postcode remains an intolerable feature of the NHS'. He added: 'We have called this debate to stress to Government the need for full implementation of the guideline to ensure that couples have access to the most effective treatments regardless of where they live'. Clare Brown, chair of NIAC, said that it hopes 'the Government will take the necessary steps to ensure that the April 2005 deadline is met and give a firm expectation as to when PCTs will implement the guideline in full'. The British Fertility Society (BFS) responded by issuing a statement saying that the NHS must act now to end inequity for infertile couples. Alison Murdoch, chair of the BFS, said 'we hope that this will show that the NHS can and must accept the government advice and give treatment to those who have already waited too long'.