A total of 13 areas in England have either completely stopped or reduced the amount of fertility treatment – and in particular IVF – since the start of this year. According to Fertility Network UK, a further eight medical centres are in talks to reduce their services, all in an attempt to cut budgets.

In fact, the number of the recommended three full IVF cycles offered by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) has dropped to almost half – from 50 in 2013 to 27 this year. Now, CCG in several parts of UK are set to become the first to restrict their fertility treatment services only to women from the ages of 30 to 35.

The CCG of the three areas have expressed that they need to "live within [their] means". However, limiting access to IVF like this goes against government and NICE guidelines. They recommend that women under the age of 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF, if they have been trying to conceive for at least two years.

Health experts are critical, calling such action a “deliberate inequality”

The fact that only some areas provide fertility treatments is like a postcode lottery – unfair to individuals who by chance happen to live in areas where the service is not offered.

Professor Simon Fishel who pioneered IVF in the UK remarked, “What is the point of having NICE guidelines if they are not adhered to? If the country decides it will not fund IVF, then fine. That is a decision which affects everyone... but what I cannot abide is the local variation for something like this, which doesn’t reflect local populations.”

“You have to treat citizens equally and this is a deliberate inequality and obfuscation and allows some areas to say they are offering IVF – but, when it comes down to the detail, only a tiny fraction of those who need it have access to it,” he elaborated.

The deputy chief executive of The Fertility Network, Leceia Gordon-Mackenzie, opined that the age cut off is unjust. “There will be many women – who do not meet this criterion, who experience the emotional distress of infertility, who will have their hopes dashed,” she added.

Indeed, one signature in a petition signed by 2,088 people, called for plans to cut funding to be scrapped said, “We had IVF on the NHS in Peterborough six years ago. Without it, we wouldn’t have our daughter. Everyone should be allowed a chance to have a baby.”

Gordon-Mackenzie deemed the changes as "arbitrary and unethical". In many cases, families may now have to look at private funding, which is deeply expensive. For example, a mother, Jenny Carrington, ended up paying more than GBP12,000 for two cycles of IVF and needed to borrow money and use credit cards to cover the cost of them.

“Further cuts would have possibly meant we couldn’t have had a single funded cycle, which might have meant our daughter wouldn’t have been born.”

“As we now have a child, we would not be able to have another funded cycle, so won’t be able to have another child if IVF is required to conceive again,” Carrington said.

Is there a scientific basis for the age cut-off?

A spokesperson for the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCGs has said that, “clinical evidence shows that treatment between the ages of 30 to 35 offers the highest possible chance of success.”

However, a study published in 2015 showed that the number of attempts of IVF had a greater effect in determining success of the procedure. It showed that the total possibility of a live birth from the first cycle of treatment would 30%, 45% from two cycles and 54% after three.

There was a 65% success rate after six attempts. In 2013, 49,636 women in the UK had a total of 64,600 cycles. As Professor Fishel explained, “We live in a world where women aren't trying to have children until much later than what it was 20 years ago; and if they find out at that later stage they need help and are told “you're just too old” – that's utterly devastating.” MIMS

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