NHS cost-cutting plans to affect IVF and fertility services

Fertility cuts

The NHS is currently in the process of introducing cost-cutting plans which will affect IVF and fertility services.

Due to financial pressure, NHS bosses are now considering only allowing women aged 30-35 to undergo fertility services. This means many women will be denied treatment. Since the start of 2017, fertility cuts have already been made in 13 areas across England and there has been a significant drop in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), offering full IVF treatment cycles.

Understandably the news has caused a lot of concern, but what does it mean for the IVF and fertility services industry?

CCGs are rendering IVF treatment a ‘postcode lottery’

CCGs are responsible for the running of GP practices and they basically decide which treatments are funded in which areas. This means, patients living practically next door to each other, but who attend different GP practices just 500m apart, could be given entirely different levels of service.

Since the beginning of the year, 13 areas throughout England have either cut fertility treatment or stopped it completely. An additional eight areas are also currently consulting on whether services should be limited according to the Fertility Network UK.

The new restrictions to fertility services are going against national guidelines created by NICE. They state, women under the age of 40 should have access to three cycles of IVF treatment. In some instances, women aged 40 to 42 should also be given access to one full cycle.

However, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bristol CCGs are currently consulting to lower the age of IVF treatment to women aged 30 to 35. If it goes ahead, these areas would be the first to restrict treatment to such a narrow age gap. Croydon is the first area to completely stop all funding for IVF. Meanwhile, in Swindon and the majority of Cheshire, the number of IVF cycles per patient has been reduced from three to one.

Experts are now outraged stating if the guidelines set out by NICE aren’t being adhered to, there is no point in having them.

It is thought the restrictions to fertility services and IVF will save CCGs £836,000 each year.

Stricter IVF eligibility in south

The majority of IVF cutbacks have been made in southern England, with some practices offering very limited treatment. A lot of couples in the south can now only receive IVF on the NHS under what is being referred to as ‘exceptional circumstances’. This means patients who are recovering from and have experienced fertility issues due to cancer for example.
Other practices are refusing to give IVF treatment to women over the age of 42, smokers and those who are classed as obese.

So, what does this mean for women in the UK struggling with fertility issues? Well, statistics provided by NICE show women tend to have a 20 per cent to 35 per cent success rate for each cycle. With each IVF cycle, the success rate increases, with the highest rate of success (65 per cent) coming after six cycles. Therefore, if the majority of GPs limit patients to just one cycle, the success rate is going to drop significantly.

Overall, many health experts are arguing this postcode lottery is cruel and unfair. However, the cutbacks have only just started, making it likely more services across the UK will be strictly limited in coming months.