UK at bottom of league for helping IVF couples with recession blamed as NHS make cutbacks
02:53 GMT, 3 July 2012
Britain is the poor man of Europe in providing IVF to childless couples, figures reveal.
The UK is third from bottom of the latest spending league, below Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. Only Russia and Ireland spend less.
It is predicted British couples struggling with infertility will see the situation get worse as the recession bites, with NHS trusts continuing to make cutbacks and treating the problem as a low priority.
Two years apart: Big sister Beau with Belle, left, and Betsy. See case study below
Experts said yesterday many doctors believe those suffering from infertility in Britain do not have the right to have a baby of their own.
A recent MPs' report found women are routinely turned down for IVF if they are deemed too young, too old, too obese or even if their husband has a child from a previous marriage.
As many as 73 per cent of NHS trusts do not offer couples three courses of IVF, as advised by medical watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
The figures were released today at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Istanbul.
Health economist Dr Mark Connolly, of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, compiled a league table of funding policies across 23 European countries.
Each country was given an index score between zero and 18 based on how many cycles of IVF would be paid for out of the public purse.
Belgium, France and Slovenia came top of the league, scoring between 14 and 18 – meaning the state was more willing to pay for treatment.
Belgium introduced a scheme about ten years ago to reimburse the cost of six cycles of IVF treatment – now the most generous in Europe.
The UK, Russia and Ireland had the least generous policies and scored around two or less.
The figures also reveal that Britain not only has low levels of public funding for IVF but also carries out fewer treatment cycles, with only Germany having a lower number.
Dr Connolly said the findings show doctors give IVF to meet 'medical need' but some countries are falling short.
He added that parts of the UK has been 'feeble' in offering treatment on the NHS.
'We are seeing cuts from funding authorities during the current recession and we are only at the start of that,' he added.
Clare Lewis-Jones, of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, said: 'It is totally unacceptable that many other European countries have better service provision for infertility patients than the UK, where IVF was pioneered.
'Infertility treatment has for too long been seen as a low priority, failing the one in six couples who live with the devastating impact this illness has on their lives.
'Those suffering from the disease of infertility have the right to expect the chance to try to have a healthy baby of their own.'
NICE guidelines state that couples should be considered for up to three free cycles of IVF between 23 and 39 after trying unsuccessfully for a year to start a family.
It is expanding its criteria for free treatment to scrap the lower age limit and suggests infertility should be treated as soon as possible, because the chances of success decline with age.
THE TRIPLETS BORN TWO YEARS APART
Like any triplets, Beau, Belle and Betsy Feltham (pictured above) share similar features. But while one of the girls can walk and talk, the other two are not quite there yet – delivered a full two years after their big sister.
The girls were born from the same batch of embryos created during their parents’ IVF treatment. Beau was successfully implanted in 2009, but Belle and Betsy were kept on ice until last year.
Claudine and Jason Feltham, of East Sussex, said they felt ‘blessed’ at having the triplets after doctors warned them they might never have a family of their own.
The couple sought private IVF treatment after Mrs Feltham, 37, was told she had a problem with her fallopian tubes. Thirteen embryos were created and two were implanted into Claudine, with others frozen for possible future use.
Incredibly Mrs Feltham became pregnant two weeks later and in October 2009 Beau was born. Last year, the couple decided to try for another child using two of the remaining frozen embryos.
Once again, Mrs Feltham was pregnant at the first attempt with Betsy and Belle being born last November.
The rationing body also says IVF should be made available to women aged 40 to 42 and extended to gay and lesbian couples.
But local NHS trusts have always imposed their own restrictions regardless of national guidance.
allow only one treatment cycle, others have additional age restrictions
and some will not pay for spare eggs to be frozen for future use.
More than 46,000 women had IVF in 2010 and around 40 per cent were NHS patients.
Treatment in the private sector, where clinics tend to set age limits higher than the NHS, costs 5,000 on average including tests, drugs and at least one IVF cycle.
Dr Allan Pacey, of the British Fertility Society, said fertility specialists were frustrated at infertility being treated as if it was a 'lifestyle choice' rather than a serious problem. He added: 'Some people have their heads in the sand, they allow a personal view to affect the trust's policy on fertility.'