November 2, 2020

The Postcode Lottery: What You Need to Know

When it comes to IVF in the UK, there are two routes. Private or NHS funded treatment. When it comes to where you live though, it’s a whole other story. This blog is going to delve into the controversial topic of the ‘postcode lottery’, so you can have all the information that you need to know.

Postcode Lottery Scratchcard

What is IVF?

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) seeks to achieve a pregnancy by fertilising eggs with sperm in the laboratory, forming embryos for transfer into the womb. IVF is a fertility treatment that offers hope for so many individuals and couples who are suffering from infertility.

What is the IVF postcode lottery?

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), state that the NHS should offer women under 40 three full cycles of IVF if they have been trying for a child for more than two years. The number of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) offering the recommended three full IVF cycles to women under 40, is however very low. In fact, only 12% of CCGs offer 3 full cycles.

This is the case because each CCG, of which there are 207 in the country, is able to make individual decisions on whether to fund IVF treatment – meaning they are able to set their own limit on the number of IVF cycles and their own criteria such as female age ranges. As a result, a number of CCGs in England have taken the decision to suspend all free fertility services.

The ripple effect…

The ripple effect of this is the creation of the ‘postcode lottery’, whereby depending on where your GP is located, you may be entitled to less or more NHS funded IVF cycles, thus creating a further barrier for those suffering from infertility. It is the case that two individuals who both qualify for NHS treatment based on NICE guidelines, may not receive the same or any treatment at all if they are located as little as 20 minutes away from each other.

Why do CCG’s cut IVF funding?

Funding. Funding limitations put pressure on CCGs to reduce costs and, as a result, IVF funding is often cut. Unfortunately, some CCGs consider infertility a lower priority, of less importance for their patients, than others.

What is funding like elsewhere?

NHS IVF: Scotland

NICE’s “gold standard”, three NHS IVF cycles, is currently offered in Scotland. This however, isn’t the case for Wales or Northern Ireland.

NHS IVF: Wales

If you live in Wales, then you are entitled to two NHS IVF cycles.

NHS IVF: Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, patients suffering from infertility are limited to one IVF cycle on the NHS.

Where can I find more information on NHS IVF funding for my local area?

If you wish to find out more about NHS funding for your local area, click here to download IVF league table data.

If I am eligible for NHS funding, how can I get treated at The Fertility Partnership?

The Fertility Partnership are incredibly proud to work with local CCG’s across many areas across the Country.

In general, to access NHS IVF funding you need first to be referred by your GP to your local NHS hospital fertility clinic. They will undertake basic fertility assessments and discuss treatment options with you.

If IVF is recommended and you meet your CCG’s criteria then you will be given a choice of IVF clinics to be referred to by the hospital. If one of our clinics is on your CCGs list we will happily look after you. Even if one of our clinics is not on the list we can often look after you after making a special request to your CCG on your behalf.

If you want to bypass your local hospital for the basic tests, we can undertake these as part of a Fertility Assessment Package. Many patients find these to be a much quicker and more focussed option. Your local NHS hospital’s Consultant will however still need to sign the form for NHS IVF funding.

What else do I need to know about NHS IVF treatment?

Although it’s important, where you live isn’t the only factor you need to be aware of for IVF funding. Even if you live in an area where there is NHS IVF funding, you need to be eligible and sadly not everyone is. To summarise, NHS criteria and different CCG’s stipulate some or all of the below criteria must be met for a woman to be able to receive NHS-funded IVF.

Factor Different NHS and CCG Specific Criteria
Age (at time of referral) Some CCGs only fund treatment for women under 35 (the referral must be before the woman is 35)
Fresh and frozen cycles Fresh cycle only
Number of cycles available Varies depending on location.
BMI Women must have had a BMI of between 19.0 and 29.9 for six months or more.
Smoking status Couples must be non-smoking for at least 6 months in order to improve the likelihood of success.
Trying to Conceive (TTC) status A couple must have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for 2 years. If there is no chance of pregnancy (due to blocked tubes or no sperm presence) then access is immediate, and there’s no need to wait.
Other A couple has been unable to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination if using donor sperm.
Not having any children, from either a current or past relationship.

About The Fertility Partnership

Here at The Fertility Partnership, we are passionate about fertility and giving everyone access to leading fertility treatments and specialists. Every day, we provide fertility treatment and advice to both NHS and self-referred patients around the country, who all have one thing in common…they want to be a mum or dad. We are here to help and are always available to you. For more information on the services we provide, please visit our treatments page.

Get in touch with your local clinic, to start your fertility journey!