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7 June 2011, 06:00
A report by a group of MPs has found the Thames Valley's NHS trusts are failing to help couples who can't have children.
Government guidelines recommend couples should be given up to three cycles of IVF on the NHS, where the woman is aged 23 to 39.
In the South Central region - which covers Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire - the NHS funds ONE IVF treatment for women aged 30-34 inclusive (up to their 35th birthday).
More than 70% of NHS trusts are ignoring guidance to offer infertile couples three chances at IVF and some have stopped funding treatment altogether, according to a damning report.
The study, from a cross-party group of MPs, found many primary care trusts (PCTs) have placed strict restrictions on who is eligible for IVF - resulting in a postcode lottery of care.
Most PCTs have put limits on the age at which they will treat women. This means younger women can wait years for NHS treatment despite the fact fertility declines with age.
But despite repeated Government reminders on the issue, the guidelines have never been fully implemented across the NHS.
A new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infertility shows 73% of NHS trusts are failing to follow the guidance.
Freedom of Information results for 152 PCTs found many also had strict criteria on age, weight, smoking status of the couple and restrictions on IVF if one partner already had a child, regardless of whether they had contact with them.
But PCTs had no rules on alcohol and caffeine consumption - factors known to play a role in fertility.
The report said the criteria revealed that the Nice guidelines had been "taken out of context by PCTs and used to place arbitrary restrictions on the provision of IVF".
Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Dartford and chairman of the APPG on Infertility, said:
"IVF is the creation of life and gives hope to thousands of infertile couples across the UK.IVF treatment was invented in Britain and so, more than any other country, we should be championing its use.As chairman of the APPG on Infertility, I believe that all PCTs should be offering three cycles of treatment as recommended by the Nice guidelines.One in seven couples in the UK suffer from infertility problems, indeed more women attend GP surgeries to obtain advice on infertility than any other issue other than pregnancy. This shows just how big an issue infertility is for so many people."
Heart's found out the number of people getting approved for fertility treatment on the health service has gone down. From January to March this year, 77 patients in Oxfordshire and Berkshire were approved for NHS fertility treatment. That's down from 124 over the same period last year.
Tim Child from Oxford Fertility Unit has been telling Heart why this could be.
"This year women aged 30-34 years inclusive may be able to access one IVF cycle. But 12 months ago it was actually women aged 30 to 36 years. Before that it was women ages 35-38 inclusive. So you can see it's been changing on an almost annual basis."
A spokesperson for the South Central Specialising Commissioning Group says:
"The IVF policy for South Central changed in December 2009 – this revised policy now funds IVF treatment for women aged 30-34 inclusive. The previous policy was 35-38 age-range.
From December 2009, for one year, in addition to the 30-34 age range NHS Oxfordshire also funded women aged 35 - 36 inclusive (ie. up to their 37th birthday) Therefore, the approved figures for IVF were higher for that year.”
A full explanation of the criteria for access to IVF in the Thames Valley can be found here