Steve McCabe MP says we must have equality on the provision of IVF services across England as three Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) plan to restrict treatment to women under the age of 35 and the Department of Health and NHS England release contradictory statements in response to the latest figures on fertility treatment.
As recently as January of this year, the then Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Nicola Blackwood, responded to a debate led by Steve McCabe MP on NHS Fertility Services saying, “I hope that the series of actions demonstrates just how seriously the Government take this situation and leaves all those watching the debate confident of our commitment to finding practical solutions to this serious problem.”
However, recent figures provided by Fertility Network UK show an increasing trend of local NHS cutbacks to fertility treatment across the UK. National guidelines on fertility treatment are being ignored by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in a bid to save money which in turn is exacerbating the postcode lottery for couples with fertility problems. The figures show that over the past four years the number of CCGs in England offering three full cycles of IVF, as per the NICE guidelines, has fallen by 46%, from 50 in 2013 to 27 this year. CCGs in South Worcestershire, Wyre Forest, Redditch and Bromsgrove reduced provision to one cycle earlier this year, while six CCGs in Birmingham and the Black Country downgraded their provision to one cycle in 2014 and continue to deny treatment to couples where one partner has children from a previous relationship, even if that was many years ago.
Now the Department of Health (DoH) and NHS England are briefing against each other in response to the continued decommissioning of IVF services by placing the blame for the current situation on each other. While the DoH have reiterated that “infertility is a serious medical condition” and that “the NHS should provide access to… IVF, for all patients who meet the criteria set out by independent experts at NICE”, NHS England have said that CCGs are being forced to make difficult decisions about “various competing demands” so that they can operate “within the budget parliament has allocated”.
Steve McCabe MP said:
“The latest figures show that when it comes to an issue of fundamental equality, the government is more than happy to talk the talk but has failed to walk the walk. During my debate in parliament on fertility services earlier this year, the minister said she would write to NHS England to make sure they were communicating the importance of following the NICE fertility guidelines. This appears to have been flatly ignored. Ministers must take responsibility for the continued decommissioning of fertility treatment but instead they have simply passed the buck onto CCGs, whose resources are insufficient due to the decision of government not to properly fund the NHS. They are effectively cheating people out of medical treatment to which they are entitled.
If treatment is to be restricted for a problem that both the World Health Organisation and the government recognise as a “serious medical condition”, then it must, at the very least, be a national level decision so that any rationing can be regarded as equal if not particularly fair. At present ministers are actively supporting a post code lottery. Just imagine the outcry if they encouraged the same approach to cancer care or heart problems. We must fight this injustice.
I’m disgusted at this latest betrayal by the government. If ministers don’t act quickly, I will continue to work with Fertility Network UK, Fertility Fairness and others to bring forward legislation to equalise the provision of fertility treatment across England”