IVF couple want fertility treatment 'equality' in NI
A couple, who have spent nearly £20,000 on fertility treatment, have called on the health minister to address 'IVF inequality' in Northern Ireland.
Deborah and Stephen Cross, from Londonderry, have been through four cycles of IVF treatment after being unable to conceive naturally.
One cycle of IVF is provided to Health and Social Care (HSC) patients here, compared to three in Scotland.
"The onus at present is on Michelle O'Neill," Mrs Cross said.
"In Scotland they have fully implemented the NICE guidelines and they are now providing three publically funded cycles of treatment," she said.
"In Wales they provide two (cycles). I pay my taxes, as does Stephen, I don't see any reason why we or those that face this journey shouldn't be entitled to three publically funded cycles of treatment.
"The unfairness, the inequity and the inequality in terms of that access to provision is unchallenged because it is such an emotive issue."
In England, provision of IVF treatment on the NHS varies across the health trusts.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends women under 40, who are struggling to conceive and who meet the right criteria, receive three full cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS to maximise their chances of getting pregnant.
Each IVF cycle can cost anywhere between £1,300 and £6,000 and offers success rates of about 1 in 3 for women under 35.
"It has been a very emotional journey over the last six years," Deborah told the BBC.
"You imagine what your child will be like … when that doesn't happen then it can be very, very hard.
"Our first cycle of IVF treatment didn't result in a pregnancy so that was probably the most difficult."
In a statement to the BBC, the Department of Health said: "In 2014 the Department endorsed the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence clinical guidelines which recommends three full cycles of publicly funded IVF, subject to certain criteria.
"However, implementation would have significant cost implications for the Health and Social Care Board, which must be carefully considered within the context of ongoing budget pressures and other competing HSC services requiring new investment in the years ahead."
Stephen Cross said that if their next treatment is unsuccessful, they will persevere with a fifth attempt.
"The desire to create a child to hold and to care for, watch them go to school. It's very difficult.
"We were going from the elation of being pregnant and seeing the baby scan to, all of a sudden in a matter of weeks, it was gone.
"As long as we have the resources we feel we will definitely continue on, but we can't continue forever," Mr Cross said.