Starting a family and planning a family is meant to be one of the most joyous moments in life; however, across Peterborough some couples are facing intense distress.
After the suspension of IVF treatments across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough couples are realising the mental, physical and financial costs of the process.
Amber Izzo (24) and her husband Marco (40) from Parnwell began trying for a pregnancy four years ago.
Facing complications, the couple were told they needed IVF; however, they now face the harrowing reality that no IVF treatment is available on the NHS locally.
Amber consulted doctors when she was unable to become pregnant, she was then diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
She explained: “When you’re in your early twenties and in good health, you don’t think it will take long.
“We started to accept something wasn’t right after 18 months.”
PCOS is a condition that affects how ovaries work and can cause irregular periods and polycystic ovaries.
After a specialist referral in 2018 and a subsequent laparoscopy, it was discovered that Amber had two fully-blocked fallopian tubes.
This meant the couple would be unable to have children without fertility treatment.
Amber then had both tubes removed and awaited a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) review before the couple decided their next steps.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG suspended almost all of its specialist fertility services in 2017, including IVF to save money.
Then the CCG decided in August this year that services will remain suspended indefinitely until their deficit is eliminated and returns to a sustainable financial surplus.
Amber tells of the couple’s disappointment at the indefinite IVF removal: “We understand the need to make cuts, however, knowing if we lived minutes down the parkway we would get a round of IVF free makes it harder. Treatment should be equal for everyone.
“We pay our National Insurance and taxes just like everyone else in all the other counties.
“The fact it is a postcode lottery makes the whole situation a harder pill to swallow. Infertility on its own is hard enough to deal with, our situation is made even harder just because of where we live.”
Personal and financial circumstances mean for the young couple that moving is not an option.
Amber explains: “It would make things harder for us both for our workplaces and would impact our finances.”
Upon private consultation it was decided that Amber needed ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) an IVF technique in which a single sperm is injected into the centre of an egg.
Private treatment costs vary dependent on case and clinic but the couplewould be expected to pay between £6,000-£9,000 for the treatment.
A decision to go ahead, is not an easy one for the couple financially so Amber said it is a “physically and emotionally testing time”.
The battle with infertility has left Amber struggling with her mental health.
“When it was confirmed that we needed IVF and I was told I was infertile, my mental health took a huge dive and I didn’t cope with that well at all,” she said.
“I was in a very dark place for about six months. When they announced they weren’t reinstating IVF, I had prepared myself for that but it was hugely disappointing, and I was very upset. I’m lucky that I have an incredibly supportive husband and a very supportive family that have really helped me deal with it.”
Amber is currently on a waiting list for mental health support. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident as other couples facing similar fertility problems cannot gain any help with starting a family.
Chris Slack (30) and his wife, who did not want to be named, have recently discovered they would need additional IVF help after having a number of tests on Chris’ sperm count.
“It was crushing when we found out,” he said.
Chris has suspected there could be an issue due to familial problems with fertility.
“It has been difficult, we have spent the week in shock,” he added.
The couple, who had been trying to conceive for two years, are now faced with paying thousands of pounds to begin their family. Chris has now had to seek support from his parents.
Despite there not being any NHS funded IVF on offer locally, the couple say the process of testing and referrals to reach a diagnosis still ‘longwinded’. To then find that no IVF is available has increased their distress.
Much like other couples, Chris and his wife have considered moving in order to receive NHS funded treatments, however, they are unable to do so because of personal circumstances, and they have also been put off by a 12 month minimum wait to start the process again in another area.
. September 2017 – The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decided to suspend routinely commissioning specialist fertility services until April 2019 in the face of financial challenges.
. April 2019 – The decision was due to be reviewed, however, it was delayed for another four months to August 2019.
. August 2019 – Following a review the governing board of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG said routine IVF will not be provided “until it eliminates its deficit”.
Where is IVF offered?
IVF is offered on the NHS if certain criteria is met, though it is down to the local CCG to make the final decision.
Peterborough and Cambridgeshire is one of five CCGs to not offer the service. However, neighbouring counties that do include Lincolnshire (one cycle), Norfolk (two cycles) and Northamptonshire.
In other areas of the country, up to three cycles of IVF can be paid for.
How much does IVF cost?
According to the CCG, an average cycle costs £5,000 per cycle, per patient.
Originally, the suspension by the CCG was hoped to save £700,000 per year.
A report by the CCG states that between September 2017 and March 2019, a total of £730,000 has been saved.