People in Cambridgeshire lose out in IVF postcode lottery

Today the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire CCG has announced it will not change its decision to cut all NHS funding for IVF.  This makes Cambridgeshire one of a very few places in the country where this treatment is not available on the NHS.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician of Bourn Hall Clinic comments: “This news will be devastating for the couples for whom IVF offers them the only chance of having a baby and that have been waiting to hear this decision. Infertility is a medical condition that can have a lifelong impact on emotional wellbeing.”

IVF postcode lottery

Cambridge is the home of IVF, as the treatment was developed at Bourn Hall by Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy after their breakthrough with the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown in 1978. The co-founders campaigned hard to get the treatment available through the NHS and the clinic provides NHS treatment to patients from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk – but not Cambridgeshire.

Until 2014, Cambridgeshire patients were able to access 3 cycles of NHS-funded IVF – the recommended course of treatment – and this was highly successful. 8 out of 10 couples receiving NHS treatment at Bourn Hall had a baby. Funding was later reduced to 1 cycle, but still about half of those treated had a baby. These success rates are well above the national average.

Donna and Chris with son Ronnie IVF postcode lottery
Donna and Chris with son Ronnie

Donna and Chris had NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, which resulted in them becoming parents to son Ronnie. Donna had four miscarriages in the space of six years and was then unable to fall pregnant again.

“Cutting the NHS funding for IVF has a dramatic impact on people’s lives and mental health,” says Donna. “Even offering one try on the NHS offers hope, we are proof of that, we had one try and were successful. This isn’t going to be the case for everyone but it can help people achieve their dream.


Impact of cuts to IVF

A recent survey undertaken for Bourn Hall examining the impact of the cuts to IVF in Cambridgeshire revealed two-thirds of those struggling to conceive had been left in limbo waiting for a diagnosis or treatment. The survey attracted 300 responses – two thirds directly affected by infertility and a third who had seen first-hand the impact of infertility on friends and family members.

Three quarters of those directly affected by infertility said they needed treatment but weren’t able to afford it (unlike other forms of private healthcare IVF is not covered by insurance policies). Responses described levels of stress, which resulted in admittance to hospital, loss of jobs, treatment for depression and mental health, breakdown of relationships, isolation and the worsening of other medical conditions

Improving pregnancy rates 

The clinic has world-leading knowledge of fertility and has proposed an integrated pathway that Bourn Hall can provide to enable the CCG to improve outcomes for patients at all stages of their journey; including using its experience to improve pregnancy rates without the need for IVF.

The Bourn Hall pathway reduces costs compared to the existing NHS service and this saving could have been used to offset some of the cost of reinstating IVF funding.

Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall
Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou continues: “Fertility is time sensitive – egg quality and quantity decline rapidly once a woman reaches the age of 35 and ageing also impacts male fertility, so early diagnosis is vital. The current patient pathway is disjointed with many delays reducing the window of opportunity for pregnancy.

“In Norfolk, we work closely with GPs to provide an NHS fertility diagnosis and treatment service, that enables 30 per cent of patients to become pregnant naturally, without the need for assisted conception. We are looking forward to being able to offer this experience to other CCGs across the region and the savings will off-set the cost of IVF for the few that need this treatment.”

We are disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision not to reinstate NHS funding for IVF treatment in Cambridgeshire. Only a very small percentage of the population needs to have IVF but the emotional impact of infertility on that small group must not be underestimated.

“For those patients who come to us for IVF who are funding their own treatment we now have more options than ever for them to access the treatment they need including multi-cycle and money-back guarantee packages and free IVF options for patients able to sperm or egg share.”

You can read the statement from the CCG here.

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