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Disappointment over changes to NHS funding rules for IVF treatment in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 May 2014 | UPDATED: 08:53 29 May 2014

Women under 40 who qualify for in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Norfolk will only be able to receive two full cycles under new rules.

Women under 40 who qualify for in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Norfolk will only be able to receive two full cycles under new rules.

Campaigners have called for health chiefs to reverse a decision to reduce the number of NHS funded fertility treatments available to women across the majority of Norfolk.

IVF facts and figures

■ Recommendations were made earlier this year by the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group to change the way NHS funded IVF treatments are offered.

■ More than 3,000 IVF cycle treatments are performed across the East every year, which costs the NHS more than £10m. More than 320 cycles of IVF treatment are funded by the NHS in Norfolk every year, which costs more than £1m.

■ Adopting full NICE recommendations would increase costs by a further £4.3m. The cost of including 40 to 42 year olds across the region for one cycle of IVF is £1.5m.

■ Reducing the number of cycles from three to two, not adopting guidance on waiting times, but including the age range extension saves up to £1m across the East of England.

■ Louise Joy Brown was the world’s first IVF baby, who was born at Oldham and District Hospital in Greater Manchester on July 25 1978, thanks to the work of Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards who set up IVF clinic Bourn Hall, near Cambridge.

■ The current IVF success rate is 40pc.

The region was once the “flagship” for IVF in the country with eligible women up to the age of 40 able to receive three full cycles of treatment. However, couples trying to conceive a first baby have been dealt a blow after the GP-led groups in charge of health budgets in Norfolk decided to reduce the number of IVF cycles on the NHS from three to two.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) in Norwich, South Norfolk, North Norfolk and West Norfolk have extended fertility treatments to women aged between 40 and 42. However, a decision to lower the number of IVF cycles available goes against National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, said campaigners.

HealthEast - the CCG for Great Yarmouth and Waveney - has opted to continue to offer three IVF cycles to patients.

Susan Seenan, co-chairman of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign (NIAC) said she feared the changes in Norfolk would be “devastating”.

“Many of these reductions were implemented without any formal consultation with patients or patient organisations. NIAC urges policy makers to sit up and take notice before it is too late and patients in the region are unfairly subjected to a lower standard of treatment than that recommended by the national body NICE.”

“The East of England always used to be the flagship and golden standard for IVF and it is really disappointing that they are going back to two cycles,” she said.

NICE published updated guidance for the NHS last year on the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with fertility problems to eliminate a “postcode lottery.” Recommendations included offering three full cycles of IVF treatment to women aged under 40 who have failed to get pregnant after two years of trying or 12 cycles of artificial insemination. It also recommended that women aged 40-42 should receive one full cycle if certain criteria was met.

A statement for the CCGs in Norwich, West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk said: “The age at which women can be considered for NHS funded IVF has been extended to 42 (from 40). If eligible they will be given one cycle of treatment. The number of cycles which women aged 23 to 40 can apply for has been reduced from three to two.”

“This was a balanced approach to ensure more women can be offered IVF, without the need to save money in other services to pay for it – in a climate when health service funds are under great pressure.”

Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, added: “Infertility is a recognised medical condition that can affect people of any age and has a potentially devastating effect on people’s lives.

“Unfortunately, we know that not all areas are following our guidance to the letter. This creates variations in treatment within the NHS, which is disappointing and goes against the fundamental aims of the NHS.”

Has your family benefitted from third cycle of IVF? Email

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