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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 03:22 GMT
NHS to offer one free IVF cycle
The guidelines say women between 23 and 39 are eligible for IVF
The NHS will fund one free IVF treatment cycle for infertile couples - and not the three as clinical experts have recommended.

Health Secretary John Reid said women under the age of 40 will be offered one free IVF cycle by April next year.

But he stopped short of saying when the NHS would offer three cycles, as recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Around 25% of women who have one cycle of IVF treatment become pregnant.

Mr Reid said the NICE guidance for England and Wales could not be implemented "overnight".
These guidelines are good news for patients - if they are implemented in full
Claire Brown, Infertility Network UK

All primary care trusts should offer couples at least one free IVF cycle by April next year, he said.

About 50% of woman become pregnant if they have three cycles of treatment.

It is estimated around one in seven couples experience conception problems.

Treatment costs

Women aged between 23 and 39, who have been trying to have a baby for more than three years, and those diagnosed with problems which cause infertility, should be given three free IVF cycles on the NHS, according to NICE guidance.

But no more than two embryos should be implanted per cycle to reduce the risk of multiple births.

IVF is a waste of resources and money should be spent on medicine for the sick
Kevin, Eastbourne, UK

It estimates this would cost the NHS in England and Wales around 85m a year including the cost of 70% of couples who have private IVF treatment moving to the NHS, plus an 80% increase in IVF demand.

It estimates an average cost of 2,771 for a cycle of IVF treatment.

NICE's recommendations also cover other areas of fertility treatment, including guidance to couples having trouble conceiving.

For the first time, it also recommends intra-uterine-insemination (IUI), where sperm is injected through the cervix directly into the womb, should be offered on the NHS.

This can help couples with unexplained fertility problems, or where the man has a slightly low sperm count.

Fertility advice

Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Commons: "We hope very much over the next couple of years we will be able to see at least very substantial progress towards the implementation of the full NICE guidelines and they will allow us to end the current postcode lottery.

"The first steps of that will be taken within the next year and this will increase the provision of IVF for people within their local area.

"In the longer term we think we can extend it even further, but we will release details of that when we are ready to do so."

John Reid added: "I am glad that NICE itself recognises that the NHS cannot reasonably make this expansion overnight.

He said priority would be given to couples without children living with them.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said a consistent NHS approach to fertility problems treatment was long overdue.

"This national guidance sets clear standards by outlining which types of treatments offer couples the best chance of conceiving."

He hoped they would be introduced "as fast as possible."

Fertility expert Lord Robert Winston told the BBC: "Fertile couples have around a 17% chance of pregnancy in any menstrual cycle.

"What we're condemning infertile couples to is about the same chance with IVF."

Emotional impact

Claire Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, which supports couples having difficulties conceiving, said: "These guidelines are good news for patients - if they are implemented in full."

She added: "The emotional impact of infertility must also not be under-estimated nor overlooked.

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman also welcomed the guidelines.

But he said: "The government must be honest with people that recommending certain treatments will probably mean cuts elsewhere in NHS services."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the health secretary had tried to go for the headline that everyone would get IVF treatment.

"What he has not revealed is that the chances of success after one treatment are very low but that they are much higher after the second and third treatment," he said.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"At the moment, where you live can decide whether you get the treatment for free or if you have to pay for it"

IVF 'much cheaper than thought'
23 Feb 04  |  Health
NHS 'should offer free IVF'
26 Aug 03  |  Health
'We had to pay for IVF'
26 Aug 03  |  Health

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