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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK
IVF 'good for British economy'
By Caroline Ryan
BBC News, Prague

A long-term economic investment?

The cost of funding IVF treatment is vastly outweighed by the economic contribution the resulting child can make, according to experts.

UK researchers calculated that, while it costs 13,000 to create a baby using IVF, each child contributes 147,000 in taxes and insurance to the UK economy.

They argue the data gives weight to the argument that the NHS should fund three cycles of IVF, as clinicians recommend.

That would result in 10,000 more IVF babies over two to three years.

Funding infertility treatment is not just a benefit for the family, but also for society
Professor Bill Ledger

At the moment, many couples do not even get the one cycle that former Health Secretary John Reid said in 2004 should be offered.

He also said then that primary care trusts, which fund IVF, should aim to provide three cycles in the long-term.

'Breaking even'

One in seven couples in the UK is affected by infertility, but the country has one of the worst rates of IVF provision in Europe, with 600 cycles of IVF per 1m women.

In comparison Denmark, which is one of the best providers, funds 2,000 cycles per million.

Assisted reproduction techniques should be used to help mitigate the consequences of falling birth rates
Clare Brown

The calculations used by a team led by Professor Bill Ledger, of Sheffield University, take into account the cost of IVF and compare it against the economic benefits, assuming education until the age of 19 and full-time employment.

The sums also take age-related health costs into account.

Researchers calculated that the total income to government would be 160,000 over a life-time, falling to 147,000 once the cost of IVF has been taken away.

The resulting child would have "broken even" with the government by the age of 31 in that they would have repaid the cost of their IVF.

The European population is ageing, with many countries - including the UK - falling under the desired birth rate of 2.1 children to a woman to keep the number in population stable.

In UK, the rate is rising, but it is still only 1.8.

Anything lower means that, as people live longer, there will be more older people than young, increasing the cost to society of factors such as pensions.

'False economy'

Researchers from the independent think-tank Rand Europe, said assisted reproduction should be used as a way of boosting the population.

At the moment, migration is often relied on as a way of bolstering populations, but the researchers say this simply delays the costs of looking after people in their old age.

Professor Ledger said: "Funding infertility treatment is not just a benefit for the family, but also for society.

"It is a false economy not to fund it."

And he said funding policies should not be left to PCTs.

"In many parts of Britain there's no access to IVF at all. It needs to be nationalised and made available to everyone who needs it."

He added that assisted reproduction was one ingredient in the "mix" needed to encourage people to have more children - along with good maternity and paternity benefits and better job security for women.

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said: "We agree wholeheartedly that assisted reproduction techniques should be used to help mitigate the consequences of falling birth rates.

"However at the moment, this is not happening in the UK.

"The NICE guidelines which called for three cycles of treatment to be made available to all eligible couples are not being fully implemented, with couples in some areas being denied access to even one cycle."

A Department of Health spokesperson said most PCTs were funding one cycle of treatment.

"PCTs hold the majority of the NHS budget and they must make their own decisions about which treatments to fund.

"NICE guidelines are just one of many factors that PCTs have to take into account when deciding on which local services to provide."

See how IVF can prolong women's fertility

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