Mustard video: New rules mean more women can become mothers
13:17 21 February 2013
Women over the age of 40 will be allowed fertility treatment on the NHS for the first time and couples struggling to conceive and qualify for IVF will be helped earlier thanks to new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. STACIA BRIGGS reports
It should be the most natural thing in the world, but for one in seven couples conceiving is anything but.
Until this week, guidelines stated that the cut-off age for National Health Service fertility treatment was 39, meaning that women aged 40 and above faced expensive private treatment if they wanted a chance at motherhood.
But new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has stated that women aged 40-42 who have not previously had fertility treatment on the NHS should be offered one round of IVF and that those struggling to conceive should be treated earlier.
Leading fertility doctors and patient groups have, however, warned that people may still be denied the treatment because of reluctance from primary care trusts to fund the procedure and pressure on an NHS tasked with saving £20bn by 2015.
Nice does propose some caveats to its guidelines, however: women in heterosexual relationships will be encouraged to continue trying for a baby naturally for two years before they qualify for IVF, while same-sex couples and people with a religious objection to IVF will be offered artificial insemination.
Drugs which increase the number of eggs a woman produces should not, says Nice, be used on a woman whose fertility is unexplained and wherever possible, only one embryo created in the lab should be placed in the womb.
Finally, IVF should only be offered to women over the age of 50 where “there has been a discussion of the additional implications of IVF and pregnancy at this age”.
Sarah Pallett is clinic manager at Colchester’s Bourn Hall Clinic, part of a chain of fertility clinics across the region including a new centre in Wymondham.
The new Norfolk-based clinic will offer women the chance to undergo IVF treatment from start to finish rather than travelling outside the county for their final egg collection and embryo transfer procedures.
“Bourn Hall Clinic welcomes the news that women and couples will now be given the opportunity to conceive in later life thanks to the new guidelines from Nice,” she said.
“We are very pleased to be one of five providers chosen by the east of England to provide funded fertility treatment for women and couples and feel that this area is one of the best for those that need to access IVF.
“It is a controversial subject and some people do think that the money could be better spent elsewhere but what they might not appreciate is that effectively being denied a family can be devastating to a couple and can, in turn, cause problems which also become a burden to the NHS.”
The Bourn Hall Clinic’s NHS patients arrive for treatment after visiting their GP and a local referral unit, which then refers them for specialised fertility procedures.
Eligible couples can be funded for up to six attempts at achieving pregnancy.
Around 40pc of couples who receive IVF will be successful.
“We perhaps don’t recognise the prime time to be looking to have babies and, of course, it’s better to think about having a child earlier rather than later – but many women don’t realise this or aren’t in a position to have a family until they are older,” said Sarah.
“In many cases, women have been working and have contributed to the economy by doing so, and by the time they reach the point where they want a family it’s devastating to discover that there are problems.
“Without raising expectations, and while accepting that IVF may not work for everyone, to be given at least the opportunity to have a child is wonderful news for a whole new set of women who previously might not have been able to afford private treatment.
“In the end, it will come down to the local NHS commissioners as to what funding provision they will offer – these are guidelines, not rules written in stone.”