A survey of GPs has revealed that their knowledge of referral and eligibility criteria for IVF treatment is at odds with the NICE Fertility Guideline
The survey was commissioned by the Progress Educational Trust(PET) and involved 200 interviews with GPs and ICSI/ICB commissioners across England as part of its Power of Three campaign to demand NICE regulations are followed.
Almost 20 years ago, NICE introduced its recommendation that the NHS should provide up to three full cycles of IVF to a woman (under 40 years of age) undergoing fertility treatment.
The survey results show that the NICE Fertility Guideline is not being followed and is not understood by GPs in England.
According to the data collated, about 48 percent of GPs report that their area meets or exceeds the NICE guideline. Though PET believes this is an overestimate, with previous research indicating that only about ten percent of areas are offering the recommended three IVF cycles.
Only half of all GPs correctly identified that the NICE Guideline recommends three full cycles of IVF for women aged under 40.
GPs identified four key patient challenges relating to NHS-funded IVF treatments: funding, access, waiting times, and emotional stress.
Nearly three-quarters of GPs (71 percent) have received a complaint about access to fertility treatment in their area, with ten percent of GPs having received more than 10 patient complaints in the last 12 months.
Sarah Norcross, Director of PET, said: “These survey results show that there is utter confusion over the current NICE Fertility Guideline. Our results should send a strong message to the Government, NHS England, the Women’s Health Ambassador, and commissioning bodies. The lack of understanding of the Guideline by GPs is making the postcode lottery worse.
“As NICE updates its Fertility Guideline, we urge it to make its new recommendations crystal clear, so that there is less room to misunderstand or cynically misinterpret the Guideline.
“We also urge the Government to honour its commitment, in the Women’s Health Strategy for England, “to greater transparency of the provision of IVF services across the country” and “to publish data nationally on provision and availability of IVF.
“PET research in 2022 showed that 67 percent of the UK public supported NHS funding of fertility treatment. The public wants this, patients need this, and doctors should offer this.”
Adam Balen, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at the University of Leeds and past Chair of the British Fertility Society, said: ”Sadly, over the last three years, we have seen a huge drop in support for people requiring fertility treatment. Not only are couples finding it very difficult to get an appointment with their GP, but when they do, there is a huge lack of knowledge about testing – and a reluctance to initiate investigations, and refer for treatments – despite clear national guidelines.
“Furthermore, around 90 percent of CCGs do not offer the recommended three full IVF cycles to clinically eligible women under 40. Fertility declines significantly with age, and so time is of the essence when helping women to have their desired family.”