It makes no sense at all -infertility is classified as a disease and yet here in the UK, you can only get treatment by the NHS if you live in a certain postcode or meet certain criteria. Here, we look a little closer at the unfairness of the IVF postcode lottery
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines infertility as the “inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year.” If a couple is unable to conceive despite regular unprotected intercourse for a year or more, it is generally recommended to seek medical evaluation and assistance.
Acknowledging infertility as a disease has several implications. It emphasises the need for medical diagnosis, evaluation, and appropriate treatment. It also helps raise awareness about the emotional and psychological impact infertility can have on individuals and couples, and the importance of providing support and access to fertility services.
In many countries, healthcare systems provide medical interventions and treatments for infertility, such as fertility medications, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), or surgical interventions. However, the availability and coverage of these treatments can vary depending on factors like healthcare policies, regulations, and funding mechanisms, leading to disparities in access and affordability.
The term “IVF postcode lottery” refers to the disparity in access to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment and fertility services across different regions or areas within a country, with the availability and funding of IVF treatment varying significantly depending on where individuals live, leading to unequal access and opportunities for couples seeking fertility treatment.
Healthcare systems, particularly those with publicly funded or partially funded services, set certain criteria and limitations for accessing IVF treatment due to budget constraints or other factors. As a result, eligibility criteria, the number of IVF cycles funded, and the level of financial support provided can differ between different areas, creating an inequitable situation.
In some regions, the funding and availability of IVF treatment may be more generous, allowing more couples to access the treatment. However, in other areas, the criteria might be stricter, leading to longer waiting times or even no public funding at all. This discrepancy based on geographic location has been referred to as the “IVF postcode lottery” because the chances of receiving IVF treatment may depend on the area where an individual resides.
According to the NHS website:
“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. But individual NHS integrated care boards (ICBs) make the final decision about who can have NHS-funded IVF in their local area, and their criteria may be stricter than those recommended by NICE.”
Here are just some of the ICBs additional criteria you need to meet before you can have IVF on the NHS:
- not having any children already, from both your current and any previous relationships
- being a healthy weight
- not smoking
- falling into a certain age range (for example, some ICBs only fund treatment for women under 35)
Although NICE recommend up to 3 cycles of IVF should be offered on the NHS, some ICBs only offer 1 cycle, or only offer NHS-funded IVF in exceptional circumstances.
The IVF postcode lottery has been a topic of discussion and debate, as it raises concerns about fairness and equal access to reproductive healthcare. Advocates, including us here at ivfbabble.com argue for consistent and equitable access to IVF treatment regardless of geographical location, to ensure that individuals and couples have equal opportunities to pursue their desire for a family.
If you are unsure as to whether you are eligible for free IVF, ask your GP or contact your local integrated care board (ICB).
“What are the chances of IVF working the first time around?”