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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
UK bottom of Euro-IVF league
By Martin Hutchinson
BBC News Online health staff in Madrid

IVF
IVF can be expensive
The UK remains rooted to the foot of a league table of IVF availability in Europe - and the situation may actually be getting worse.

There is still very little NHS funding for fertility treatments - and the average cycle of IVF costs more than 3,000.

Figures released at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Madrid on Wednesday reveal that in 2000, in the UK, there were just 585 cycles of IVF carried out per one million inhabitants.

We need to still give the message that Britain is lagging behind, and contrast it with the fact that it is a leader in the science of fertility
Dr Francoise Shenfield
This compares with our neighbours the Netherlands and France, which managed more than 960 cycles of IVF per million.

In Scandinavia, the situation is even rosier for infertile couples.

Five out of the top six in the "league table" are Scandinavian countries, and in Denmark, 1,826 cycles per million were carried out.

This means that in Denmark, hardly anyone has to wait for fertility treatment.

Unacceptable

Dr Francoise Shenfield, head of Ethics and Law at ESHRE, told BBC News Online that the continued gap between the UK and the rest of Europe was "unacceptable".

"We need to still give the message that Britain is lagging behind, and contrast it with the fact that it is a leader in the science of fertility.

"It reinforces prejudices in the rest of Europe as to how bad the NHS is."

The body set up by the government to examine the "cost-effectiveness" of treatments has been looking at whether more fertility treatments should be available across the NHS.

The National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness has written its draft report, which has now been sent out for consultation.

However, availability to IVF in the UK is still twice as good as in the US, where just 250 cycles per million were carried out.

There is a drive in European countries to cut the number of multiple births following IVF treatment - as this places both mother and babies at increased risk.

The best way of doing that is to cut down the number of fertilised embryos which are put back into a woman to try to achieve a pregnancy.

In the UK, the recommendation is for a maximum of two, unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case three can be put back.

However, there are calls for just one to be transferred, particularly in younger women.

In 2000, just over 30% of IVF cycles in the UK involved the transfer of three embryos, placing Britain halfway down the European table.

Overall, in Europe, the proportion of multiple deliveries continues to fall.

However, Dr Nyboe Andersen, one of the report's authors, said: "Some European countries still transfer three or more embryos with a resulting higher number of multiple births."




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