Infertility treatment is being denied to thousands of couples, currently on the NHS, despite the government guidelines that call for equality in access to related health care services. This could be partly attributed to stringent criteria for the provision of assisted reproductive techniques (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other modalities.
A majority of the primary health care trusts (PCTs) indeed accept that their norms are severe than that recommended by the National Institute for Clinical and Healthcare Excellence (Nice). It is further believed that the goal of providing three cycles of IVF by the Government would at least take another 3 years to materialize.
"Couples are just devastated by this. They were told that the Nice guidelines would end the postcode lottery of fertility treatment but it is still going on. Infertility is an illness and yet these people are being denied a possible cure. We need proper funding ... not just lip service and gimmicky headlines, "said Claire Brown, Infertility Network UK.
It was recommended by Nice that all infertile couples be given three free cycles of IVF, provided they satisfied the criteria in the year 2004. With each cycle of IVF approximating to £3,000, a doubt certainly persisted over providing such costly treatments to infertile couples and was hence not legally validated.
It was then decided to offer at least 1 free treatment cycle to patients by the end of last April. A 15% disparity was found in the treatment offered, as revealed by a Nice survey. The presence of children to either of the partner from a previous relationship or private payment for the IVF treatment has to a large extent limited the provision of such free services.
Although the Nice guideline states that the service be provided to all women between 23 and 39 years of age, in practice, effective treatment is not being instituted until the women has reached 36 years in many regions. Controversies still exist over the funding of costly treatments such as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) that is based on the use of just a single normal sperm.
60% of the PCTs have expressed that effective implementation of three free IVF treatment cycles cannot be achieved before 3 years. Some of these surprisingly have not developed a timetable to achieve the goal. The financial constraint faced by the health care trusts and the lack of Government funding is a significant block in effective implementation of free IVF treatment.
A different study conducted by researchers at Sheffield University has suggested a reduction in the number of twins and triplets born to parents treated by IVF could contribute by and large to the NHS saving. The cost associated with twin and triplet birth (£9,122 and £32,354) and prenatal monitoring is also greater compared to a single IVF pregnancy which costs only about £3,313.
It is high time that appropriate measures are being taken to minimize the physical, emotional and financial trauma faced by infertile couples.