As part of a range of cutbacks to clinical services, the CCG has decided to stop the routine funding of donor egg cycles, IUI and sperm insemination outside of IVF. It has also extended its restrictions on eligibility for NHS fertility treatment based on weight and smoking status to both partners, and women will need to wait for three years before meeting the eligibility threshold, an increase from two years of trying to conceive previously.
Dr Paula Cowan, the medical director of Wirral CCG, told the Liverpool Echo: 'The decisions taken follow an informed discussion between governing body members, which considered the evidence for each clinical service as well as the views gathered from the public, stakeholders and clinical colleagues during consultation.'
The CCG's decision to cut funding has not only affected access to fertility treatment, but also extends to other routine, non-urgent procedures. The removal of excessive hair, breast reduction surgery for both sexes, and male vasectomy under a general anaesthetic will all no longer be funded routinely by the CCG – although patients may be able to access the procedures if they have clinically extenuating reasons.
Wirral CCG's decision to restrict funding for fertility treatment comes as one in ten CCGs have announced funding cuts in the last two years. According to Fertility Network UK, around 84 percent of CCGs do not offer the three IVF cycles recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and four areas in England do not now offer any fertility treatment through the NHS (see BioNews 879).
Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network UK and co-chair of campaign group Fertility Fairness, said the national recommendation that CCGs provide three full cycles of IVF 'offers the best possible chance of success'. However, although NICE is responsible for providing evidence-based recommendations on the provision of NHS services, adherence to the fertility guideline is not mandatory.
'To deny couples access to the recommended treatment because of where people live is cruel and unethical and will be devastating for all those affected,' said Seenan.
Margaret Greenwood, Labour MP for Wirral West, Merseyside, said that the news of the cuts was 'cause for alarm' and called on the government to give the NHS in Wirral the 'funding it needs'.
'People in Wirral don't want to see a future where those who can afford it pay for expensive health insurance, and everyone else is left relying on an under-resourced NHS,' she said.
Dr Cowan told BBC News that the CCG was facing a deficit of £12 million: 'We need to do what's best for our 300,000 patients and not just a small group.'
Four other local CCGs – Eastern Cheshire, South Cheshire, Vale Royal, and West Cheshire – are also due to announce decisions around similar measures in the coming weeks.