New guidelines aimed at improving access to fertility treatment were welcomed by the UK's new Public Health Minister, Gillian Merron, last week.
The recommendations, entitled 'Commissioning Aid for regulated fertility services', and compiled by the Expert Group on Commissioning NHS Infertility Provision and Department of Health (DH), will help commissioners of fertility services to deliver the full three cycles of National Health Service (NHS) funded IVF recommended in the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guideline issued in 2004.
In a keynote speech made at a conference in London to highlight the launch of the new guidelines, Merron emphasised the need for three full cycles of IVF in order to gain patient acceptance of single embryo transfer, a measure aimed at reducing the incidence of multiple births for the safety of mother and baby.
Sally Cheshire, non-executive director NHS North West and chair of the expert group said: 'We identified that a key barrier to fully implementing the NICE guideline was knowledge for commissioners about the full range of fertility treatments, and how they could best plan and deliver their services to patients. We are pleased to have developed the commissioning guide to help all commissioners in providing best practice, quality services across England and Wales.'
New guidelines were also published by Infertility Network UK (IN UK) entitled 'Standardising Access Criteria to NHS Fertility Treatment' with endorsement from the DH. Claire Lewis-Jones, Chief Executive of IN UK, said: 'Much progress has been made recently, but there is still a long way to go in terms of standardising access criteria and full implementation of the NICE guidance, including the number of cycles provided. We hope that this will help the once in six couples affected by infertility to access the treatment they deserve.'
IN UK has also been working with the Department of Health to carry out research into overall progress made by local health services in fully implementing NICE recommendations. A recent survey showed that 27 per cent of trusts offer the full three cycles of NHS-funded IVF. Although this is a significant improvement from the five per cent of primary care trusts which were meeting this target in 2007, there is 'still a long way to go' says Lewis-Jones.
Also speaking at the conference, Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), called for an investigation into the cost benefit ratio of current government guidelines for IVF, arguing that infertility was comparable in public health terms to breast cancer.
A consultation process to update NICE guidelines for fertility is due to begin next year, with the publication of new revised guidelines expected in 2011.