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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK


Fertility funding frustrates medical staff

Access to IVF treatment depends on your postcode

Medical staff who have to "ration" infertility treatment in the UK find their jobs frustrating and stressful according to a new survey.

As well as the concerns of staff, the unique study for the National Infertility Awareness Campaign (NIAC) looked at the emotional and financial pressures on prospective parents. One in twenty said they had experienced suicidal feelings.

The NIAC warns that unless extra money is found for the treatment of fertility problems, there could be a shortage of new recruits wanting to work in the field.

Fifty one per cent of specialists who responded to the survey said their work is stressful and believe increased funding for the NHS is the way to reduce the problem.

The NIAC criticises the "treatment by postcode" whereby access to infertility services in the NHS is not universal across the country; couples in some parts of the UK have no choice but to go private.

"Unless these issues are addressed," said joint author Professor Peter Braude, "we will find ourselves with an acute recruitment shortfall which will be a disaster for the service."

National guidelines

The NIAC welcomes the recent government pledge to publish guidelines for health authorities and to look at variations in infertility funding.

"There must be some kind of central guidance as to what the NHS wishes to offer," said William Ledger, IVF clinical director of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oxford, and the other author of the report.

"It should be the same level of treatment whether you live in the north of England, in Scotland, Ireland, or wherever.

"Everyone should have access to effective treatments. This is what we would like to see happen in the reorganisation of the NHS which is going just at the moment."

Suicidal feelings

In addition to getting anonymous questionnaire responses from 157 clinicians - 90% of them consultants - the NIAC also had survey answers from 1,288 men and women with a history of infertility.

One in 20 said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of infertility, and most reported emotions including frustration, depression and helplessness.

Phil Holm and his wife have already had one child thanks to fertility treatment and are trying for a second. They are now trying for a second, but the unavailability of NHS treatment in their area means they have to go private. Each attempt costs £2,500.

"It's a real emotional roller coaster," he told the BBC. "There are also the financial stresses as well. We want to have another child but we can't really afford it, so we have got to make certain sacrifices in our lives to have the family we desperately want."

The report, entitled Infertility into the Millennium, and the surveys - both carried out by an independent market research organisation - are published to mark the start of the sixth National Infertility Awareness Week.

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