Note: North East Essex CCG reinstated IVF provision for two cycles of treatment in April 2020. Read more here.
There is renewed hope that the new integrated care system introduced across Suffolk and North East Essex may remove the IVF postcode lottery and provide a more consistent fertility pathway for patients.
NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk provide two cycles of NHS funded IVF and have renewed their contracts with Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. The third, North East Essex CCG, currently provides no NHS IVF treatment. All three CCGs are part of the same Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS), which is designed to support best practice.
So, Bourn Hall is hopeful that the North East Essex CCG might reinstate funding for IVF to align its policy with the other CCGs.
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic comments; “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract to provide NHS funded IVF across Suffolk and Ipswich for a third time. We are achieving excellent success rates and hope that this medical treatment will also become available to those in North East Essex through the NHS.”
IVF postcode lottery
A spokesperson for the NHS North East Essex CCG says the three CCGs within the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System are currently in the process of reviewing their policies.
“IVF treatment is not currently available to patients living in the NHS North East Essex CCG area. Two cycles of IVF treatment are currently available to patients in the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk CCG areas.
“We are proposing that two cycles of IVF treatment be made available to patients in North East Essex who meet the necessary criteria from April 1, 2020, to bring us into line with the treatment available to patients elsewhere in the ICS. This reinstatement will be subject to public consultation and board approval. “
Bourn Hall was first awarded the NHS contract in 2009. It is the only clinic to be reselected three times. With clinics at Colchester, Wickford, Cambridge and Norwich it is also the only provider to be based in the region.
Bourn Hall is committed to getting patients pregnant as soon as possible with minimum intervention. It offers testing to enable early diagnosis of infertility to both NHS and self funded patients and has found that its free fertility advice sessions – which it offers to everyone – have been successful in improving the chances of natural conception.
Dr Papathanasiou continues: “The majority of couples will get pregnant within a year of trying. For those that don’t, we often find that practical advice along with good nutrition, a healthy BMI and medication to increase egg production can help increase the chances of natural conception for many people.
“However, for a small group of people IVF is the only chance of having a baby. This is the final stage of the fertility journey and it seems unfair that access to this medical treatment depends on your GP’s address.”
Bourn Hall patient, Claire Owen agrees: “As someone who relied on NHS-funded IVF to conceive, the current postcode lottery seems extremely unjust to me. How can it be fair for people in north-east Essex to be denied treatment while their counterparts in Suffolk receive two funded cycles? In some cases, these people could be living just a few miles apart.
“Of course, I understand that different CCGs have different budgets and can use them accordingly. However, I believe there should be a national standard to which these groups have to adhere, to make the situation fair for everyone. We are all paying the same UK tax, after all.
“Fortunately we moved soon after our son was born, so we did not need to consider whether NHS-funded IVF treatment was available. I can imagine that having to do so must feel incredibly restrictive and, again, unfair if the odds aren’t in your favour.”
The CCG spokesperson continues: “Residents in North East Essex will shortly be asked for their views about the proposal to reinstate IVF treatment along with 63 other clinical policies. Subject to the responses received from members of the public, the proposal will need to be ratified by the CCG’s governing body before it becomes policy.”
The IVF postcode lottery in Essex
Other parts of Essex also have a postcode lottery. NHS Mid Essex CCG and NHS Basildon and Brentwood CCG currently provide no funding whereas NHS Thurrock CCG provides 3 cycles of IVF.
Bourn Hall is hopeful the review will result in a return of funding for IVF in North East Essex and perhaps encourage other CCGs to review their policies to end the postcode lottery for IVF.