Dismay over IVF cuts threat as South Norfolk couples may miss out on NHS-funded treatment

Gemma Clarke, 28, and Matthew Goldsmith, 29, from King’s Lynn, and their baby Ava Goldsmith, who was

Gemma Clarke, 28, and Matthew Goldsmith, 29, from King’s Lynn, and their baby Ava Goldsmith, who was born after IVF treatment. - Credit: Archant

Couples with fertility problems face missing out on key IVF treatment as health bosses seek to make savings ahead of a looming £6m black hole.

Clinicians and campaigners said they were 'dismayed' by plans to restrict free IVF treatment for residents of South Norfolk, and described the emerging 'postcode lottery' as unfair.

But South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for healthcare in the area, said it faced 'significant financial challenges' and had to consider the effectiveness, value and outcomes of all the services it commissions.

It said the move would save nearly £190,000 per year.

Sarah Norcross, chairman of national campaign group Fertility Fairness, described the level of service within fertility treatment in the east of England as 'going from the best to the worst in the country', in the space of two years.

It follows a reduction to the number of cycles offered to couples in other areas of Norfolk 18 months ago. If the treatment is axed,

South Norfolk would become only the third area in England where the vast majority of couples could not get NHS-funded cycles. Couples could still get advice and support from their GP, and have further investigations, tests, and certain types of treatment, but not the key fertilisation treatment.

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Hilary Byrne, chairman of the CCG, said: 'The cost of healthcare is rising faster than the CCG's budget, which is why savings must be found.

She added: 'This is the reality at a time when there is increasing demand for services and a growing population.'

The CCG, which faces a £6.6m deficit at the end of this financial year, aims to reduce costs by reviewing all its expenditure. Other proposed savings so far are in prescribing costs, reducing expenditure in hospitals, and efficiencies in community services.

Under the CCG's plans, on which the public are being consulted, there would be three exemptions to the cuts.

Couples will only qualify for NHS-funded IVF cycles if a person is:

- Undergoing cancer treatment;

- Has a disease or condition requiring a medical or surgical treatment that has a significant likelihood of making them infertile;

- If the male partner has a chronic viral infection where there is high risk of viral transmission to the female partner and potentially any unborn child (such as HIV or Hepatitis C).

Fran Rose-Smith, regional clinic manager for Norfolk and Cambridgeshire at IVF Clinic Bourn Hall, said fertility problems could lead to couples breaking up and developing depression – resulting in a longer-term cost to the NHS.

'I understand the CCG needs to save money but I think this can be done a different way,' she said.

West Norfolk, North Norfolk, and Norwich CCGs all offer two free cycles to eligible patients while Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG offer three. None have announced plans to reduce the number of cycles.

The public can comment on the proposal until November 13 by emailing SNCCG.communications@nhs.net.