More than eight out of 10 PCTs are still failing to offer the full three cycles of IVF treatment as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), according to a report published by Tory MP Grant Shapps this week. The report revealed further inconsistencies in the criteria PCTs were using to decide who should get NHS-funded IVF, resulting in some mothers being both too old and too young to access treatment, depending on where they lived.
Mr Shapps, who used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from PCTs across the UK, said that PCTs should do more to manage the expectations of would-be parents by being more realistic about what they can offer: ‘IVF remains a postcode lottery in this country. Budgets are tight and the NHS must set its priorities, but it is wrong to raise expectations in couples who are desperate to start a family only for them to find out later that they won't get the real help they expected.'
NICE guidelines issued in 2004 recommend providing couples in which the woman is aged between 23 and 39, three full cycles of IVF, as well as the replacement of frozen embryos, should a couple fail to conceive with fresh ones. Infertility affects up to one in seven couples in the UK. The limited NHS provision of IVF means that of the 40,000 IVF cycles carried out in the UK each year, around three-quarters of these are done privately, costing at least £2,000 per cycle.
The report has prompted the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) to mount pressure on PCTs to comply to guidelines ‘as soon as possible', however, many trusts blame financial constraints for failure to comply.
The Department of Health defended the NHS, claiming that government surveys were not consistent with Shapps' results and showed that trust were ‘making good progress in implementing Nice guidelines.' He added: ‘The option to become a parent is something most of us expect to have. People who cannot conceive naturally should have access to NHS treatment, just as they would for any other clinical need.'