Today (25 July 2018) marks Louise Brown’s 40th Birthday. Why is this special? Louise was the first baby to be born via IVF treatment, a moment which started a revolution in infertility treatment and has given so many parents hope of conceiving a child.
Fast forward 40 years and this pioneering treatment is being rationed by many NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, entrenching a postcode lottery system that is leaving countless couples heartbroken and facing huge bills to pursue treatment privately.
Provision of fertility services in England varies considerably from one area to the next and the number of CCGs restricting or completely decommissioning the service has increased dramatically since 2014. If you live in Luton you are lucky enough to get three full cycles of IVF but if you live in Birmingham you only get one cycle funded by the NHS. How is this fair?
The arbitrary criteria goes further I am afraid. My constituents in Birmingham, and many other people across the country, are being refused treatment because their partner has a child from a previous relationship, no matter how old this child may be. This is not a medical criterion, this is the NHS making a moral judgement about who they think deserves treatment and we need to put a stop to it.
We are also seeing unintended consequences of the rationing of IVF treatment which is heaping more pressure on our maternity services. There is evidence of an increasing number of couples going outside of the regulated sector in the UK, often to other European countries, to have fertility treatment which results in multiple pregnancies. The expectant mothers then return to the UK to receive their maternity care within the NHS. Multiple births involve higher risks for mothers and babies and at a higher cost to the NHS. Forcing couples to seek IVF treatment abroad because they are being denied help on the NHS ends up costing our health service more. It is a false economy.
In April I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill with the aim of equalising access to NHS Fertility Services across England, it is due to have its Second Reading in November. My Bill would aim to eliminate regional variations, including the absurd use of arbitrary access criteria, by ensuring that all CCGs in England routinely commission fertility treatment in line with the NICE guidelines. The Bill would also pursue the development of national benchmark pricing in England for fertility services to end the wide price disparity in commissioning costs. It seems ridiculous that it can cost the NHS so much less in Newcastle than it does in Birmingham for the same NHS treatment.
40 years on from Louise Brown’s miracle birth we should be celebrating our advances in fertility treatment not rationing them.
Steve McCabe is Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak. His Access to In Vitro Fertilisation (NHS Fertility Services) Bill is scheduled to have its Second Reading on 23 November 2018.