Women seeking IVF treatment on the NHS, in some areas of England, must prove they are in a three-year ‘stable’ relationship to get funding.
However, local policies differ from region to region creating an infertility ‘postcode lottery’ based on relationship status.
In Cornwall, a patient must have a partner of two years and be in a ‘financially interdependent’ relationship to be eligible for treatment, according to the policy for Kernow CCG.
But in Devon, single women are allowed IVF on the NHS.
Kernow CCG said its criteria were ‘agreed in consultation with clinicians’ to ensure the welfare of the child.
Some women seeking IVF treatment on the NHS must prove they are in a three-year ‘stable’ relationship to get funding, depending on where they live
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) makes recommendations about who should have access to IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales.
However, NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) make the final decision about who can have NHS-funded IVF in their local area – and their criteria may be stricter than those recommended by NICE.
The policies of 24 out of England’s 135 CCGs require patients to be in a ‘stable’ relationship – some requiring three years, while others require two years, according to the Sunday Times.
Nearly half of CCGs in England (48%) do not allow for single women in their criteria.
Other common policies in all CCGs is that the welfare of the child should be considered according to evidence-based criteria, and parents who smoke, are overweight or have an addiction are ruled out.
However, they have ‘inconsistent’ policies on the upper age limit for patients, how many rounds of IVF they can have and whether or not their partner has a child from a former relationship.
One IVF counsellor claims that some women lie about their relationship status to get NHS infertility treatment.
Joanita Namugenyi, conceived through IVF and now counsels other women having fertility treatment.
She claims to know of women who lied about their relationship status to get treatment, saying: ‘They know they won’t get it otherwise.’
Local CCG policies for IVF treatment differ leaving patients ‘confused and upset’
One IVF patient, Kate, from east London, initially sought NHS-funded IVF aged 39 before going private.
She had been trying to conceive with a close friend of 10 years but because they live at separate addresses, their lawyer advised them that they could be turned down for NHS funding.
Kate, who works in education, ended up paying £20,000 to go private rather than risk being refused.
‘It’s not a gamble I could take,’ she said.
Professor Tim Child, who helped to write the fertility guidelines for Nice, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, said CCGs were ‘applying their own, made-up criteria’ to help them ‘ration’ services.
‘It causes confusion and upset for patients,’ he said.
Professor Geeta Nargund, lead consultant in reproductive medicine services at St George’s Hospital in south London, said: ‘The postcode lottery for IVF treatment urgently needs to be addressed.’