The Inequality of IVF and the Postcode Lottery
I was fortunate to attend an event at The Houses of Parliament this evening for Fertility Awareness Week. The speakers included:
- Labour MP Paula Sheriff
- Geeta Nargund from Create Fertility
- Sarah Norcross from Fertility Fairness
- Richard Clothier- campaigner
- Peter Thomson from government regulator HFEA
- and the chair of Fertility Network UK.
As I walked through the security area (they were kind enough not to make me walk through the scanner as I would rather not radiate myself!), I was struck by how it's only in recent years that women have even been allowed in to Parliament. It felt a very fitting venue for such an important women's issue.
The topic for the evening was the 'postcode lottery' that means that there is an inequality in access to IVF on the NHS. Here are the main points from the evening:
- The NICE guidelines are that women under 40 should be offered 3 full cycles of IVF. Only a shocking 10% of CCG (Clinical Commissioning Groups) are complying with this recommendation.
- 60% of CCG are only offering 1 cycle.
- 7 CCG aren't funding IVF at all.
- There is no benchmark price for IVF, so CCGs can pay anything from £3000 to £11000 for the same treatment.
- The NHS should over a local service for everyone, regardless of where they live.
- The IVF issue is political and related to funding. Austerity measures mean the CCG have reduced budgets and pull IVF funds.
- Brexit means a lot of decision-making is on hold.
- The access issue of IVF on the NHS means many people seek overseas treatment where regulations might not be as stringent. This can mean multiple embryos, multiple pregnancies and much higher costs.
- One potential way of cost-saving is to reduce unnecessary tests. For example, a laparoscopy costs the same as IVF.
- It's simply not true that IVF is an expensive treatment. Countries such as Belgium, France and Holland are all offering much lower costs.
- IVF access is a complex issue. Women's health has been the 'poor relation'. Other women's issues such as the gender pay gap, housing costs, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace etc. are also tied in to making it difficult for some women to get pregnant in the first place.
- Infertility is a mental health issue with issues of depression, shame, grief, debt and relationship strain.
- Fertility is not just a women's issue.
- Infertility is a disease and not a lifestyle choice.
- There's a need for more thorough male fertility testing.
- NICE guidelines only have half a page on male fertility. The man is not recognised as a patient.
In the coming weeks I will expand on some of these themes. I am particularly interested in older women and fertility, as biological age and lifestyle is not often considered. I'll also be sharing ways that women can stay connected to their body through fertility treatment, and process difficult feelings through the body.
For now, if you are interested in the IVF debate, you can write to your MP to demand that the issue is kept high on the agenda.