Already the shops are full of promotions for Mothers’ Day – just part of the constant reminder of what you are missing if you are struggling with infertility in Cambridgeshire.
Unlike residents in Newmarket, Biggleswade or Saffron Walden – where one or more cycles of IVF treatment are available as part of the NHS fertility service – anyone with a GP in the Cambridge & Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) now has to pay for treatment, regardless of their income.
This postcode lottery is considered by many people to be very unfair.
Bourn Hall provides NHS treatment to patients across the rest of the region. It is the world’s first IVF clinic and has 40 years of expertise in providing fertility care.
This knowledge means that it is also able to help patients to boost their natural fertility, and lead clinician Dr Thanos Papathanasiou is concerned that Cambridgeshire residents are not getting the advice they need.
He says: “We are concerned that by removing IVF as an NHS treatment option, patients in Cambridgeshire are now less likely to have their infertility fully investigated.
“This means that people who could benefit from other types of treatment such as medication or specialist fertility advice may not be receiving that support through the NHS.
“For example, we have been told by Cambridge University Hospitals that fifty per cent of the people referred for fertility testing on the NHS have been waiting more than three months for their first appointment. Fertility declines with age so every month is precious.”
“There is now an opportunity to review the way that the fertility service is delivered and to suggest improvements that would offer better outcomes to all patients by creating efficiencies rather than cutting funding.”
The decision to remove funding for IVF treatment is being reviewed by the CCG in May 2019. Campaigners believe that this is an opportunity to present information about the impact of the cuts. Stuart Tuckwood and Ellie Crane launched a petition in 2017 to prevent the cuts, which achieved 4,000 signatures.
Stuart comments: “We now have an opportunity to make the commissioners aware of the impact their decision has had. “We are hopeful that we can convince them to reinstate funding. Recently South Norfolk CCG reintroduced funding for two cycles of IVF treatment in their area, removing the postcode lottery in Norfolk, and we would like to see a similar move here.”
Ellie Crane says the NHS funding that enabled her to have a daughter was ‘life changing’. She remembers: “Like any couple, we were happy and excited but also a little scared at the prospect of starting a family. However, each month brought disappointment and we started worrying that there might be a problem.
“A second year passed. I quit my job, unable to cope with the stress of working on top of this anxiety. Finally, after what seemed like endless tests and consultations, we were told that IVF was our best option and were referred for treatment on the NHS.
“At that point Cambridgeshire NHS offered two rounds of IVF, but while we were waiting for the paperwork to be processed this was cut to one round; we missed the deadline by days.”
Fortunately Ellie’s story has a happy conclusion. “Thanks to the wonderful skill and knowledge of the staff at Bourn Hall – and a little bit of luck! – our one shot paid off and the IVF worked first time. However, there are hundreds of couples out there who are still on this journey and for whom the future is uncertain.”
The East and North Hertfordshire CCG has negotiated a competitive deal with its five IVF suppliers on behalf of the twelve CCGs that serve Herts, Cambs, Beds, Norfolk and Suffolk. Of these only the Cambs and Herts Valley CCGs provide no funding for IVF treatment.
It is estimated that only about 100 couples a year meet the NHS criteria for IVF so removing funding will have had a negligible impact on the CCG, which has a £1.15bn budget – one of the largest in the country.
The financial data presented to the commissioners during the public consultation in 2017 about the amount of saving possible was challenged by a number of parties and subsequently the CCG agreed it was flawed.
Bourn Hall has used its experience to design a survey to capture information about peoples’ fertility journeys. It plans to use this information to propose options that would improve patient outcomes without a significant cost. The survey is to be shared with people that contributed to the 2017 petition and to others via social media.
Additionally, Bourn Hall is holding a Fertility Awareness Evening on 6th March 2019 where people can have an individual mini-consultation with a fertility nurse specialist to talk about their own fertility journey, the options for treatment and alternative ways to fund treatment.
The survey can be found at: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CambsCCGBHC
Details of the Fertility Awareness Evening are on the Bourn Hall website: www.bournhall.co.uk/news-events