Couples denied the chance of a baby in IVF postcode lottery


Last updated at 22:00 01 March 2007

Thousands of childless couples are being denied fertility treatment as the Health Service desperately cuts 'low priority' treatments to save money.

The most comprehensive assessment to date of IVF treatment on the NHS has revealed a shocking 'postcode lottery' of services.

In some areas, fertility treatment has been suspended altogether as hospital trusts try to claw back multi-million deficits.

Find out how your local trust fares here

Where it is being offered, couples face bewildering discrepancies in the criteria used to judge whether they should qualify.

Around one in five hospitals is flouting national rules saying infertile women between 23 and 39 should get treatment. Others are barring couples who have previously paid for their own treatment or have children from previous relationships.

'We spent £20,000 after NHS failed us'

IVF - in vitro fertilisation - involves eggs being fertilised in the laboratory before being placed inside the womb.

Guidelines published in 2004 were supposed to have delivered equal access to statefunded IVF.

The Government's health rationing watchdog NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, said infertile women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered up to three IVF cycles.

But a survey of all primary care trusts shows that in many areas, even when couples should be eligible for help, funding restrictions are preventing treatment taking place.

Other trusts are imposing their own age restrictions - or denying couples treatment if they have paid for IVF attempts in the past. Last night, even NICE admitted progress towards full provision on the NHS was "disappointing".

Tory MP Grant Shapps, who has had three children thanks to IVF, asked each trust to set out its policy on access to IVF using freedom of information laws.

He was shocked to discover that with NHS finances under serious pressure, some hospitals are refusing to fund IVF or other fertility techniques, including intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

Because of apparently arbitrary age restrictions elsewhere, a woman living in one area could be considered too old to qualify while in another area she would be considered too young.

Of 111 primary care trusts which responded - 90 per cent of the total - 21 do not offer the maximum three cycles of IVF. Twelve offer two cycles and nine offer one.

Eighteen are ignoring guidelines that women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered the treatment.

In Staffordshire, two of three local primary care trusts have said there will be no money available for IVF or ICSI during the whole of the 2006/7 financial year.

In Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, women must be aged between 36 and 39 to be offered IVF - older than the optimum age for a successful pregnancy.

In Lincolnshire and Luton, hospitals will pay only when a woman is under 35.

Mr Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, Hertfordshire, said: "The rules are complex, unequal and sometimes just downright unfair.

"Even if you qualify on all fronts, the evidence is that a women may still be denied treatment because of budgetary deficits."

Dr Gillian Leng, of NICE, said: "The number of IVF cycles has increased across the NHS, and the majority of PCTs are offering one cycle.

"However, it is disappointing to see a lack of long-term plans in many PCTs to increase provision."

• For full results of the survey, log on to

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now