The Victoria Derbyshire programme on Monday morning has found that women over the age of 34 are being refused IVF treatment on the NHS in 12 areas in England.
In vitro fertilisation, also known as IVF, is one of the numerous techniques available to women to help with fertility difficulties. During the IVF process, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The embryo (fertilised egg), is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) fertility guidelines make recommendations about who should have access to IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales. However, over 70% of areas in England are failing to follow the guidelines by lowering the age of women being accepted for IVF treatments.
A 38-year-old woman from Southampton on the Victoria Derbyshire programme has contemplated moving to another area as she has been told her age was an issue for the procedure in Southampton. It has been reported that the Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has a cut-off age for women of 34.
NICE; recommends that women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF, and those between 40 and 42 one full cycles. However, it has been reported that seven CCGs have stopped offering IVF on the NHS altogether, of which 12 have denied treatment to women over 34.
These guidelines are not followed by everybody and this creates an unfair system for women across England and Wales. The final decision about who can access to NHS-funded IVF in England is made by local CCGs, and their criteria appear to be stricter than those recommended by NICE.
Health Secretary and MP for West Suffolk Matt Hancock publicly responded to CCGs having their own access criteria, stating that such restrictions were not acceptable: “There is a reason we have guidelines in the first place and that is to provide the standard the country expect”.
The rejection of IVF treatments to a category of women is another method of controlling women’s bodies and denies some women the opportunity to become parents. Further, women from poorer backgrounds may not be able to afford the cost of IVF treatments as 1 cycle of treatment may cost up to 5, 000 or more. Guidelines are set to be followed, however, to shift control and decision making to local bodies may cause further segregation amongst women, unfair treatment and further loss of faith in public services.