Mark* has known since he was a teenager that becoming a father would not be straightforward.
At 16, he was diagnosed with leukaemia and treatment for this left him infertile.
Luckily though, he was able to store sperm before he began his cancer treatment – giving him the hope of fatherhood in the future.
However, despite his clinical need, Mark is being denied access to NHS fertility treatment because the body that plans and controls health care services where he lives – West Sussex – sets its own arbitrary criteria for who can and can’t access it.
According to West Sussex, Mark is not entitled to medical help because his partner has two children from a previous relationship.
Mark’s situation is far from unusual. According to Fertility Network’s 2018 Fertility Fairness report, severe cuts to fertility services in the UK mean that 59% of people who need IVF will have to pay for their medical treatment.
Where you live, your personal circumstances, medical situation and age are all factors determining whether you will be facing a financially-crippling bill for private IVF (a round of treatment costs between £6,000 to £10,000 plus).
The national recommendation from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is for women under 40 to have three full IVF cycles, and women aged between 40-42 to have one full IVF cycle, because this has been determined to be the most clinically-effective and cost-effective treatment for infertility.
However, NICE’s guidance is not mandatory and, outside of Scotland, NHS fertility services are rationed unfairly by postcode, rather than medical need.
England is by far the worst place in the UK to live in terms of access to NHS fertility treatment.
NHS fertility services are rationed unfairly by postcode, rather than medical need.
Only three of England’s 195 NHS bodies for planning health care services offer the IVF Gold Standard: three full IVF cycles for clinically eligible women under the age of 40, plus one full IVF cycle for women aged between 40-42, and provision for if either you or your husband has a child from a previous relationship.
The remaining bodies all ration access by reducing or removing the number of IVF cycles they offer, or by introducing a variety of additional access criteria, none of which are in the national fertility guidelines.
Depending on where you live in England, a couple can be denied access to NHS IVF because: the woman is over 35 (10 per cent of planning bodies), the man’s body mass index is >30 (27 per cent), the man is too old (14 per cent), either of you has a child from a previous relationship (91 per cent), or a woman’s anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) level is deemed unacceptable (25 per cent).
If you do fulfil all of their additional arbitrary access criteria, then it’s a postcode lottery regarding the number of rounds of treatment you will be offered: seven areas in England don’t offer any NHS IVF at all (they are all in the south); two-thirds offer only one full or partial cycle; just 13 per cent offer three full cycles, and a further one in ten are consulting on cutting or removing NHS fertility services.
Wales provides two full IVF cycles for clinically eligible women under the age of 40, plus one full IVF cycle for women aged between 40-42, and allows access to treatment if either you or your husband has a child from a previous relationship.
Northern Ireland provides just one partial IVF cycle for women under 40 and allows access to treatment if either you or your husband has a child from a previous relationship.
Living in Scotland gives you the best chance of accessing NHS fertility treatment: everywhere in Scotland offers the IVF Gold Standard.
You shouldn’t have to move to Scotland to have the best chance of having a baby through IVF. This postcode lottery is ridiculous and so maddening that you could scream – that’s why we’ve launched a #Scream4IVF campaign to end this unjust situation.
Along with countless other couples and individuals, Mark and his partner are being forced to go privately. Facing infertility is hard enough, join your voice to the campaign and scream with us.
*name has been changed
#Scream4IVF if you think that should be the case across the UK Scream4IVF.org. For free and impartial help and support with fertility issues, or to make a donation to enable us to continue our work, visit fertilitynetworkuk.org
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