Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall Clinic, says he is deeply saddened by the news, which will be devastating to many couples. He says: “Infertility is an eminently treatable medical condition for which there are treatments available, and success rates are improving all the time. Cutting funding will make it difficult for couples to access the level of support that they need.
“Having a family is core to most people’s lives, with each milestone that a child reaches being a cause of joy and celebration. Not being able to have a much-wanted child creates deep emotional distress and relationship breakdown.
“We would like to reassure patients that have already been referred for funded treatment that they will not be affected by this change, which came into effect on 2nd June.
“Cambridge and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will be engaging in a public consultation in the near future with the likely outcome that the provision will be withdrawn entirely as this has proven to be the case with other CCGs in the region.”
NICE guidelines, which were adopted by the East of England Fertility Services Consortium in December 2015, recommend three cycles of treatment to give the optimum chance of success. 90% of NHS patients treated at Bourn Hall give birth when given access to this level of treatment.
Dr Macnamee continues: “Offering just one cycle of funded treatment puts considerable pressure on couples who are already stressed. We have found that the highest rates of success come when patients are offered several chances; this allows them to relax and as a result a high proportion do become pregnant on the first attempt.”
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG is a member of the East of England Fertility Services Consortium, which is responsible for the commissioning of fertility services.
In December 2015, after considerable consultation with the medical community, the Consortium agreed its policy: that couples meeting the stringent eligibility criteria would be entitled to three fresh cycles of IVF and a maximum of six (fresh or frozen) embryo transfers.
This treatment is considered best practice by NICE and 9 out of 10 NHS patients treated at Bourn Hall Clinic take home a baby when this protocol is applied.
The Consortium selected five providers to deliver this service through a competitive tendering process, and the providers were selected on quality of treatment, track record of success and cost effectiveness. Bourn Hall is the only provider of NHS-funded IVF to be based in the region.
Although Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG adopted the Consortium policy in principle, the CCGs are allowed local variations. It therefore opted to offer couples only two cycles of assisted conception (instead of the recommended three) and are now cutting this to just one cycle with no guarantee that this will continue.
Bourn Hall provides NHS and self-funded fertility and IVF treatments. To facilitate access to treatment Bourn Hall has introduced free IVF treatment for sperm and egg donors, a range of payment plans that offer money-back guarantees, and most recently the ‘Gift of Giving’ programme where an egg or sperm donor not seeking treatment themselves can nominate a couple to receive free IVF treatment.
It was Cambridge scientist Robert Edwards who co-founded Bourn Hall after he and Patrick Steptoe produced the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby. IVF specialists now operating worldwide were trained at the clinic, resulting in over 5.5m IVF babies around the world. This legacy makes it particularly sad that the local CCG is making this decision.