Written by: Shani Fowler
The NHS was set up in July of 1948. The clear principle being that the health service would be accessible by all and funded through taxation, so people pay into it according to their means. The idea behind it was that within a few years post war Britain would have a healthier nation. Years down the line with medical progress how is it panning out? The NHS today is still very much in existence but undergoing major changes in its core structure – and like most other government organisations, the NHS is cash strapped. The major changes themselves cost money to save money. Funding for fertility treatment is often one of the first casualties. But what about those people who desperately want children that without this vital treatment face a future of childlessness?
Who may be eligible?
It feels confusing to know where to go and where to start and what exactly you are entitled to, there seems to be a lottery for treatment dependent on which area you live in. Differing NHS trusts offer different funding eligibility to its patients. Let’s look at who would be eligible for funding:-
Firstly to be eligible for IVF funding you must start with your own GP as you will need a referral from them. For your GP to be able to do this you have to meet the criteria set out by various UK government bodies. This would be explained to you at your appointment.
Once you have your referral to a fertility clinic there is then the possibility of having to wait to be able to take up your treatment. Again, waiting lists can vary for each NHS Trust although many do have an eighteen week policy where you should be ready to commence treatment eighteen weeks from your GP referral to fertility clinic. The treatment itself is funded by the NHS but prescription costs for the drugs required for the cycle still have to be met by you if you usually pay for your prescriptions.
Different criteria for NHS fertility funding
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own criteria for NHS fertility funding, so availability is dependent on not only the region you are in but the country you live in also. In brief they are:-
- Women to be between the ages of 23-39
- Those who have three years or more of infertility
- Those who suffer from an identifiable reason for infertility such as a blocked fallopian tube
Decision making of funding is undertaken by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and they determine how many cycles can be funded. This is why they vary from hospital to hospital. Some may fund three, some may not fund any. The CCGs also set their own criteria for candidates such as taking into account Body Mass Index, previous cycles and whether the patient already has children.
The Welsh Assembly called for all eligible couples to receive one cycle of IVF through the NHS.
In Scotland those eligible can have a maximum of three cycles through the NHS.
Northern Ireland offers all qualifying couples one cycle of IVF through the NHS and couples who already have children are not excluded.
This is just a brief look at NHS fertility funding and further more in depth criteria can be found through regional NHS and government web links. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) have a website that covers the levels of funding in detail for England and Wales.
It would be brilliant if IVF was freely available for all who needed it, but unfortunately because it is so costly to the NHS limitations have to be set. On average it takes around three attempts at IVF to successfully produce a baby (some less and some never). It is already a very stressful route to pregnancy and with added worry of funding it can be heart-breaking agony for many couples. There is the option of privately paying and many people continue to fund IVF through that route. In years to come let’s hope that the wonders of restructure and good policy combined with the wonders of science can help all that need the NHS vital services.