I have recently been reviewing the NICE guidelines for infertility which are really informative and comprehensive. I then started to think about some of my patients who have been referred for infertility treatment recently and realised that many of them are still not receiving the standard of care recommended by these guidelines.
I was not totally surprised therefore to read that a piece of research by the campaign group Fertility Fairness found that only one London borough is actually meeting the NICE guidelines. Their research found that Camden was the only one of 32 CCGs in London to offer the recommended three cycles, while Islington offers two. All other areas offer only one cycle.
NICE cannot compel CCGs to follow its guidelines. However, NICE clearly states that the NHS should provide three full cycles of IVF for women under 40 who have failed to get pregnant after two years of trying. Women aged 40-42 should receive one full cycle if certain criteria are met.
Some areas are no longer even offering infertility treatments and the majority of CCGs in England are currently only offering one cycle of IVF rather than three.
This is obviously to reduce costs but one of the aims of the NICE guidelines were to reduce the “postcode lottery” of care with respect to infertility treatments.
Surely this is not fair? Around one in seven couples have fertility problems and knowing there is such a variation in treatment can only add to the stress many of these couples are already under. It would be lovely if the recently published Quality Standards on Fertility problems by NICE makes a positive impact on this problem.