Women in their 40s and same-sex couples may be offered IVF on NHS for first time
Nearly 8,000 women aged 40 to 42 had IVF privately in 2010. Each cycle costs 3,000 on the NHS



08:45 GMT, 22 May 2012

Thousands of women over 40 could be eligible for fertility treatment on the NHS under new proposals published today.

IVF is currently only recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for women aged 23 to 39 because the chances of success decline rapidly with age.

However, NICE is now considering offering one full cycle of IVF to women aged 40 to 42 in draft guidelines which will now go to public consultation.

Women struggling to fall pregnant could soon be offered IVF up to the age of 42 on the NHS

Women struggling to fall pregnant could soon be offered IVF up to the age of 42 on the NHS

The health rationing body will also advise the health service to offer free IVF to gay and lesbian couples as long as they have tried – and failed – to have a baby at least six times using a private fertility clinics.

Its previous guidelines did not specifically state that such couples should not be offered treatment and all bar a few NHS trusts do so.

Each course or 'cycle' of IVF costs the NHS about 3,000. Nice does not know how much its proposals are likely to cost the taxpayer every year.

But the most recent figures for 2010 show that nearly 8,000 women aged 40 to 42 have IVF privately. If all these women had had their treatment on the NHS it would have cost 24million.

Dr Gill Leng, Deputy Chief Executive, NICE, said: 'Infertility is a medical condition that can cause significant distress for those trying to have a baby.

'This distress can have a real impact on people’s lives, potentially leading to depression and the break-down of relationships.

'However, in many cases infertility can be treated effectively – there are thousands of babies and happy parents thanks to NHS fertility treatment – which is why the NHS provides services and why NICE produces guidance on the topic.'

She added that there had been many advances in both treatments and in the understanding of different fertility techniques since the last guidelines were published in 2004.

'For this update we are using the latest statistical and clinical evidence to make sure that treatment for infertility is offered at a time and in a way which is most likely to result in pregnancy,' she said.

The new guidance would also mean that women aged under 39 would be eligible for three cycles of IVF after two years rather than having to wait for three under the current rules. They also appear to remove the lower age-barrier of 23 for treatment.

However, there are concerns that many cash-strapped health trusts will ignore the guidelines. Last year a report by MPs found that three quarters of health trusts were refusing to fund the recommended three courses for eligible couples.

Specific recommendations have also been put forward to limit the number of embryos implanted during treatment as multiple births create more risks for both mother and children.

In 2004 it was recommended no more than two embryos should be transferred during a cycle. Now NICE recommends single embryo transfer for women under 37 and in women under 39 if there is at least one top-quality embryo.

Dr Leng added: 'New groups of the population have also been included in this update. These groups include people who are preparing for cancer treatment who may wish to preserve their fertility, those who carry an infectious disease, such as Hepatitis B or HIV, same-sex couples and those who are unable to have intercourse, for example, if they have a physical disability.

'The aim of these new and updated recommendations is to ensure that everyone who has problems with fertility has access to the best levels of help. We are now consulting on this draft guideline and we welcome comments from interested parties.'

When published, the update will replace some but not all parts of the original fertility guideline. Until then, NICE said NHS bodies should continue to follow the recommendations from the current guidelines.