Level up or level down? A consultation about IVF treatment by the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (BLMK CCG), has found that 82.3% of respondents support levelling up to provide a consistent pathway for all NHS patients, removing the postcode lottery.
Currently if you live in Bedford or Milton Keynes, you may be eligible for one cycle of NHS funded IVF. However, if you live in Luton the treatment is the full three cycles as recommended by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) for providing the best chance of success.
Over 1,000 people responded to the consultation, which also covered other aspects of healthcare. 69.7% of participants were concerned about changes to the specialist fertility services.
Of the 632 people that responded to questions on options for fertility provision, 56.6% had been impacted by infertility themselves or had a relative that was, 33.9% were interested members of the public, and 2.8% were healthcare professionals.
NICE guidelines* recommend that all couples that have failed to become pregnant after unprotected intercourse for over two years should be offered three full cycles of IVF (fresh and frozen).
Currently residents of Luton that meet the eligibility criteria are offered three cycles but those in Milton Keynes, Central Bedfordshire and Bedford Borough are offered a single cycle.
Currently specialist fertility treatment is only available to those that have a fertility issue or unexplained infertility for over three years; it is not available to fertile people that require donated sperm such as same sex couples, single women and trans individuals.
Research by the Scottish Government has found that less than 10% of eligible patients require all three cycles.
The consultation offered two options:
- To reduce the offer from three cycles to one cycle of IVF to patients in Luton and extend access to the service to a broader group including those with protected characteristics.
- To increase the provision to three cycles for patients up to 39 years, for NHS patients in Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes in line with the current Luton model and extend access to those with protected characteristics
82.3% of people voted for option 2: to provide three cycles of treatment to all eligible patients across BLMK.
The consultation also received formal responses
Bourn Hall has been providing NHS treatment to the people of Bedfordshire for many years and has welcomed the opportunity to provide our own clinical insights, gained from more than 40 years of treating IVF patients, to the CCG consultation. In 2019 the live birth rate for NHS patients in Bedford was 43%, which is significantly above the national average, but for those from Luton – where three cycles are available – it was nearer to 70%.
Fertility Network urged the CCG to look at the NICE guidelines, which provide detailed advice on what is clinically- and cost-effective.
The findings of the report and the policy recommendations will be discussed at the BLMK CCG Governing Body meeting on 29 March 2022.
*In 2004 NICE produced clinical guidelines based on evidence. It recommended that three full cycles of IVF treatment should be provided to infertile couples, where the woman was aged 23-39, had an identified cause for their infertility or who had unexplained infertility for three years.