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'Postcode lottery' for IVF may not end after all

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

14 June 2004

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[BioNews, London] Only one third of primary care trusts (PCTs) in England will introduce guidelines designed to end the 'postcode lottery' of IVF treatment on the National Health Service (NHS), according to a new survey. This means that prospective patients in many parts of the country may still struggle to obtain NHS-funded IVF. The findings were announced at the National Infertility Day conference in London, which took place on Saturday 12 June.

A survey by the charity Infertility Network UK (INUK) found that PCTs showed 'widespread reluctance' to implement the clinical guidelines, issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in February. The NICE recommendations stated that three cycles of IVF should be offered to infertile couples meeting certain criteria. But, despite this, Health Secretary John Reid announced that by April 2005, couples meeting the NICE criteria will be offered just one free cycle of IVF. In addition, he said, NHS-funded IVF will only be available at first to couples who don't already have children living with them. The Health Secretary said that 'full implementation' was a goal for the long-term, but has not yet committed to a timetable for this.

INUK asked 282 PCTs for their views on the guidelines, their impact on services and the timing for implementation. Fifty-three PCTs replied, of which only a third said they would fully implement the Health Secretary's recommendation. Just under 50 per cent of the respondents said they had not yet finalised their plans, and 15 per cent said that they definitely did not plan to implement the guidelines. Nearly three quarters said they were concerned about the high cost of implementation. The survey also found that a third of the PCTs said they would need to look for private contracts to fulfil demand for fertility treatment, and a further third said that they were considering doing the same.

INUK said that there was also confusion among the PCTs about who would be eligible for IVF. Sheena Young, head of business development, said that 'a lack of central guidance on social eligibility criteria and perceptions of high cost of implementation are standing in the way of equitable access'. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health responded, saying that all PCTs should be offering at least one single cycle of IVF using fresh embryos by April.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 14 June 2004   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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