Health chiefs in Peterborough have been warned by the Government it would be “unacceptable” for parents not to be offered “routine” fertility services, offering a potential lifeline to couples desperate to conceive.
A letter was sent from the Department of Health to all local commissioning bodies today (Monday) which said they should follow national guidelines on fertility treatment and end the “postcode variation”.
This would mean offering women under 40 a minimum of three free IVF cycles if they have been trying to conceive for three years or more.
The letter could have huge ramifications in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire where the Clinical Commissioning Group in 2017 became the third CCG to end all offers of IVF on the NHS except for two medical exemptions - patients undergoing cancer treatment and for men who have a chronic viral infection.
The cut was made by local health chiefs looking to trim £700,000 a year from their budget due to a multi-million pound deficit, despite anger from parents, politicians and campaign groups who strongly criticised the decision.
Today’s letter from Jackie Doyle-Price, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, is well timed as tomorrow the CCG’s governing body was due to review the IVF cut, with a recommendation that it remain indefinitely.
However, the CCG has now deferred the decision until next month’s governing body meeting as it digests today’s development.
The letter from Ms Doyle-Price states: “The UK is highly regarded, and rightly so, for innovations in fertility treatments. But for far too long fertility services have become known for the ‘postcode’ variation in their availability to NHS patients.
“It is unfair to patients with infertility, who have every right to expect NHS services based on clinical need. And it does untold damage to the reputation of the NHS that we all hold so dear.
“Infertility is a disease and recognised as such by all mainstream international health organisations. In the UK, infertility affects one in seven of all couples of childbearing age. It can cause great psychological distress for those seeking to start a family, if not addressed.
“There is an effective treatment in IVF and ICSI and the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) Fertility Guidelines set out clearly how the treatment can be offered in the most clinically and cost-effective way.”
The letter adds: “I cannot emphasise enough that it is not acceptable for CCGs to offer no routine access to fertility services. All CCGs should move towards full implementation of the NICE Fertility Guidelines recommendations.”
The letter has been sent after the publication of new commissioning guidance for fertility services.
Ms Doyle-Price said its publication “provides CCGs the tools to address an inequality that has, for too long, been allowed to grow – to blight the lives of patients and to damage the reputation of the NHS.
“I urge you to grasp this opportunity to end the lottery of fertility treatment, once and for all.”
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The CCG has today received new information from the Department of Health about the commissioning of IVF services. Because of this the CCG has decided to review this information with NHS England and bring the decision back to the CCG Governing Body on August 6.”
This is the second time the CCG has deferred its review into fertility treatment.
The previous deferral had been made in May which led to criticism from anxious parents desperate to know if they would be able to receive NHS funded fertility treatment in the future.
The CCG claimed at the time it did not want the decision to clash with the European elections and Peterborough by-election.