The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has today issued new draft guidance concerning the provision of fertility treatment and IVF on the NHS. The new proposals recommend that the age limit for women undergoing IVF treatment on the NHS should be increased from 39 to 42 years. The proposals also recommend for the first time that same-sex couples should qualify for fertility treatment if they have undergone six cycles of artificial insemination at a private fertility clinic. Furthermore, the proposals recommend that women should be offered fertility treatment on the NHS after two rather than three years of unsuccessful trying for a baby.
NICE guidance on the provision of IVF treatment on the NHS hasn’t been updated since 2004. It is high time this is achieved to reflect better treatment success rates, equality legislation and greater demand for IVF by women aged 35 upwards. However, NICE guidance is not mandatory and it remains to be seen whether these new proposals will bring about greater recognition of IVF as a legitimate clinical need or greater fairness in terms of access to fertility treatment on the NHS across the country. In the meantime, fertility patients continue to battle with the reality of the postcode lottery and varying restrictions imposed by PCT’s who continue to flout the guidance.
Infertility affects one in six couples across the UK from all walks of life. The IVF postcode lottery causes great distress for people when faced with the reality that they will not be offered the recommended number of free IVF cycles on the NHS or worse none at all. This can lead to relationship breakdown and depression which can blight people’s lives and cause long term misery and hardship. Private fertility treatment can cost thousands of pounds which is too often beyond the reach of couples, particularly in the current economic climate. With an increasingly ageing population, we need to do all we can to increase the birth rate in the UK to mitigate the increasing economic burden placed upon younger generations of society.