Funding of IVF in the UK 'is feeble'

By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News, Istanbul

Image caption,
A cycle of IVF costs around £3,000

It is harder for couples in the UK to get financial help with their fertility treatment than in almost any other European country, experts say.

Only Russia and Ireland have worse access to IVF treatment, according to work presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology.

The lead author said many NHS trusts had been "feeble" at providing IVF.

The British Fertility Society said some NHS trusts needed to do more for infertile couples.

Dr Mark Connolly, from the University of Groningen, analysed fertility policies across 23 European countries from 2007 onwards.

Those with the highest ratings for funding or reimbursement were Belgium, France and Slovenia.

Italy, Montenegro and Portugal all had higher levels of funding than the UK.

Unmet need

Data presented to the meeting in Turkey showed this affected the chances of treatment.

Nearly 2,500 IVF cycles took place per million people in Belgium compared with a figure of 825 cycles in the UK.

Dr Connolly said: "If one considers medical need is similar across countries then the data here suggest a great unmet need in those countries with limited reimbursement."

Official guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) say women should be allowed three free courses of IVF treatment. Each cycle costs around £3,000.

The latest draft guidelines also recommend widening access to older women.

However, the decision about how much IVF is funded is taken locally by individual primary care trusts.

"I think most trusts were feeble in their ability to provide that [IVF]," said Dr Connolly.

Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: "It just makes me depressed.

"If primary care trusts would sign up to the level of provision NICE says we should, we'd be up there in the statistics.

"But some PCTs won't budge on it."

Dr Connolly also warned that IVF could become a victims of the economic turmoil in Europe.

He said all health funding was being appraised and that "in many cases assisted reproduction is subject to the whims of various budget authorities trying to decide what they can fund and what they cannot."

The International Federation of Fertility Societies said: "In many states the pendulum is swinging towards the need to increase fertility which underlines the need to improve access to cost effective and safe IVF."

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."

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