Parental hopefuls have described their heartbreak at being deprived IVF treatment on the NHS in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire with health chiefs set to continue the cut permanently.
In 2017 the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group became the third CCG in the UK to go against national guidelines by ending the funding for IVF treatment, barring two exceptions - for patients undergoing cancer treatment and for men who have a chronic viral infection..
The cut, which was expected to save the CCG £700,000 a year to help it tackle a multi-million pound deficit, was due to have been reviewed in May, but the decision was postponed until tomorrow (Tuesday) by health chiefs who did not want it to clash with the European elections and Peterborough by-election.
However, papers released ahead of the meeting indiicate that the cut is likely to be made permanent, with no plans to review it in the future, after the CCG argued that that it had not seen a rise in patients accessing mental health services as result of being denied fertility treatment.
Moreover, it pointed out that its financial position has "deteriorated", leaving it with a £192 million deficit.
Now, ahead of the decision, a new survey has been released into the effects the cut has had on families.
The survey was produced by Holdsworth Associates after it had been commissioned by Bourn Hall, the only provider of NHS funded IVF treatment in the area.
The survey attracted 300 responses, with two-thirds of respondents directly affected by infertility and a third who had seen first-hand the impact of infertility on friends and family members.
Seventy-five per cent of those directly affected by infertility said they needed treatment but were not able to afford it.
RELATED: The survey in full
Responses described levels of stress which resulted in admittance to hospital, loss of jobs, treatment for depression, breakdown of relationships, isolation and the worsening of other medical conditions:
One response said: “It instilled distance between me and friends who had children as I struggled to cope emotionally. I felt I was failing our families and parents who were so looking forward to becoming grandparents. My life focus became only about conceiving - my desire to succeed in my career waned and I was less creative, less productive in my role.”
Another said: “It is a big strain on your relationship, the worry and stress of all the tests and still not knowing the outcome. Most importantly trying to lead a normal life around others that don’t know what you are going through.”
A further response stated: “It put huge pressure on my marriage. I also lost lots of friends along the way because they were having their own families or they didn't know the right things to do or say to support us. Health-wise the waiting game caused problems with endometriosis/PCOS. I lost my job (in the NHS) so financial pressure and stress all took its toll on my mental health."
Moreover, two-thirds of the patients referred for fertility testing after 2017 have been left in limbo, either still waiting for results or unable to access treatment, with overstretched hospital gynaecologists having to prioritise cancer and other treatments over advice that might improve couple’s chances of conceiving naturally.
Waiting times for appointments and delays in diagnosis can have make it harder to conceive naturally.
All the patients requiring treatment that took part in the survey had been made to wait at least two years after seeing their GP before they were referred for testing – regardless of age or medical history – with a further wait for a first appointment.
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, lead clinician at Bourn Hall, which has a clinic in Peterborough, said: “Although stress does not cause infertility it can impact the hormones used to control reproduction in both men and women. A smooth pathway from diagnosis to treatment and beyond can remove this stress and provide a resolution for patients. It can enable them to move on from this stage of their lives even if this doesn’t ultimately involve a child."
When NHS funding was available in Cambridgeshire, and the full National Institute for Heath and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines were implemented - which is for women under 40 to be offered a minimum of three free cycles if they have been trying to conceive for three years or more - treatment at Bourn Hall resulted in eight out of 10 NHS patients having a baby.
The clinic said estimates suggest that less than 150 people in Cambridgeshire would be eligible for NHS funding for IVF each year – equivalent to 0.03 per cent of the CCG's budget.