The real lottery of IVF treatment

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Leanne and Andrew Hardaker, who tried IVF but eventually had their daughter Honey through a sperm donor Leanne and Andrew Hardaker, who tried IVF but eventually had their daughter Honey through a sperm donor

Leanne and Andrew Hardaker longed for a child of their own.

Both had children from previous relationships. Sadly, Leanne’s 11-month-old daughter, Chloe, died from the rare muscle-wasting disease spinal muscular atrophy.

Failure to conceive naturally led the couple down the IVF route, but because Andy already had children, they discovered they weren’t allowed free treatment on the NHS.

Determined, the Keighley couple sought treatment abroad, but when that failed they tried desperately to raise the money themselves.

They spent £10,000 on fertility treatment and even sold marigold seeds through eBay, informing customers their cash was helping to nurture a new life, but their site was closed down as it was deemed against the site’s rules. Everything was stacked against them. It was a sperm donor who helped them to have their own family. Their daughter, Honey, was born 14 months ago.

This week a new report reveals more than 70 per cent of NHS trusts are ignoring guidance to offer infertile couples three chances at IVF, and some have stopped funding treatment altogether.

The study, from a cross-party group of MPs, found many primary care trusts have placed strict restrictions on who is eligible for IVF, resulting in a postcode lottery of care.

Most PCTs have put limits on the age at which they will treat women. Five PCTs, Warrington, West Sussex, Stockport, North Yorkshire and York, and North Staffordshire, offer no IVF at all.

In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said couples should be given up to three cycles of IVF on the NHS, where the woman is aged 23 to 39, but the guidelines have never been fully implemented across the NHS.

A report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on infertility shows 73 per cent of NHS trusts are failing to follow the guidance.

Freedom of Information results for 152 PCTs found many also had strict criteria on age, weight, smoking status of the couple and restrictions on IVF if one partner already had a child.

Says Andy: “We couldn’t get free treatment due to me having children from a previous relationship, thus totally ignoring the rights of Leanne to have treatment.”

The couple believe PCTs should adhere to the guidelines and at least offer one cycle.

“The reason PCTs usually give is the cost – a little annoying when you see some of the things they actually spend the money on such as tens of thousands of pounds on smoking shelters – more than enough to fund several couples for one cycle of IVF.

“We have a child due to using a sperm donor, but we are still trying for our own. We have been told again that we need IVF and, once again, that we will have to fund it ourselves.”

The report said the criteria revealed the Nice guidelines had been “taken out of context by PCTs and used to place arbitrary restrictions on the provision of IVF.”

According to Nice, when the 2004 guideline was published the Department of Health stated that it expects all PCTs to offer all women aged 23 to 39, who meet the Nice clinical criteria, a minimum of one full cycle of IVF from April 2005; give priority to couples who do not already have a child living with them, and to make progress towards full implementation of the guideline in the longer term.

NICE say they are currently in the process of reviewing this guideline, although it is still at a very early stage and too soon to say whether recommendations regarding eligibility for IVF or number of cycles will change. The review is not expected to be completed before 2012.

Bradford and Airedale PCT offers one IVF treatment on the NHS.

According to Greg Fell, consultant in public health for NHS Bradford and Airedale, it is about prioritising resources.

He says in theory they are all working towards the same policy framework. “Some PCTs offer three cycles of IVF and some offer none. I don’t think none is acceptable,” says Mr Fell.

He explains they automatically fund couples who meet the criteria. In exceptional circumstances those who don’t meet the criteria can submit an individual funding request to the PCT.

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