Northern Ireland

Stormont deadlock blamed for fertility treatment delays

Della McGill and Ryan Cunningham
Image caption Della McGill and Ryan Cunningham say IVF offers them an opportunity to have a baby

A County Down couple have said the political deadlock at Stormont is delaying their chance of becoming parents.

Della McGill has suffered two ectopic pregnancies and said in vitro fertilisation offered her and and Ryan Cunningham the chance of having a baby.

Last month, the Belfast Health Trust announced a temporary halt on offering fertility treatment as part of a raft of cost-cutting proposals.

Access to the Regional Fertility Centre for an estimated 320 new patients would be deferred until next April, it said.

'Our hearts are broken'

They would then join a waiting list that is already up to nine months long for certain treatments.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Women in Northern Ireland are entitled to one fertility cycle paid for by the Health Service

Ms McGill, 35, said she was "heartbroken" when she heard the news.

"The current political deadlock at Stormont has obviously contributed to all the other problems that we are facing, the uncertainty of our future and the possible postponement of potentially never having our family and we aren't getting any younger," she told BBC news NI.

"We've already been through a nightmare for two years. I have suffered two ectopic pregnancies and lost one fallopian tube.

"Our hearts are broken."

The NI executive collapsed in January, and the last round of power-sharing talks ended in stalemate in June.

The two biggest parties, the unionist DUP and republican Sinn Féin, blame each other for the lack of progress.

The couple argue that if the Northern Ireland Assembly was up and running with an Executive in place, the health service would operate more smoothly.

Ms McGill has been involved in compiling an online petition, which the couple hope to hand in as part of the consultation process on health savings.

Originally from Scotland, Ms McGill said that despite women there being entitled to three free IVF cycles, she would not consider moving back as Northern Ireland is her home.

Women in Northern Ireland are entitled to one fertility cycle paid for by the Health Service. In Wales, women are offered two cycles of IVF.

In England, the situation is more fragmented and IVF treatment has been restricted or halted in 13 areas since January.

'Tremendous stress'

Mr Cunningham said that while he understands budgets are tight across the UK, the other devolved nations at least have functioning governments in place.

"There was X amount of money promised for Northern Ireland that is just sitting there," he said.

"If the government was in place in Stormont that money could be used to help ease the pressure.

"If the money was in place perhaps the cuts to health and social care wouldn't be necessary."

Image caption Sharon Davidson said her organisation had been inundated with concerned callers

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland co-ordinator for Fertility Network UK described a meeting with Health Department representatives as "sad, but encouraging".

Sharon Davidson said targeting fertility services was a soft option.

"No one wants to see the vulnerable in society being hit in this way," she told BBC News NI.

"However, I am very optimistic that we have put all our points across, we have come out with a good fight to save the service being deferred by an additional five months."

Ms Davidson described targeting people who were desperately trying for a baby as "emotive".

She said her organisation had been inundated with calls from service users and professionals asking why the service has been cut.

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