Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 11:34 UK

NHS access to IVF 'improves'

More couples are being given three IVF cycles

Over a quarter of local health bodies are offering the recommended three free cycles of fertility treatment to couples trying to have a child.

The Department of Health said 27% of English primary care trusts offer three cycles - up from just 5% in 2007.

Health minister Gillian Merron said the health service was making "excellent progress" in improving IVF access.

Patient groups welcomed the increase, but said there was still "a long way to go".

Diet advice

Infertility Network UK, which campaigns for better access to fertility care, has worked with the Department of Health to improve access to NHS treatment.

Guidance from the National Institute for health and Clinical Exellence already recommends women should have a body mass index (BMI) of no more than 30, and that they should not smoke.

We hope that this will help the one in six couples affected by infertility to access the treatment they deserve
Clare Lewis-Jones, Infertility Network UK,

The new guidance says where needed, women should be given advice on diet, and on physical activity to help them achieve a healthy BMI.

They should also be given advice and support on stopping smoking and a referral to a smoking cessation clinic.

It also says local health services should provide IVF for those who do not have children, including couples where one partner is childless.

Clare Lewis-Jones, the chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said: "We are delighted that there are such positive moves towards providing couples with fair and equitable access to fertility treatment.

"Much progress has been made recently, but there is still a long way to go in terms of standardising access criteria and full implementation of the NICE guidance, including the number of cycles provided.

"We hope that this will help the one in six couples affected by infertility to access the treatment they deserve."

Ms Merron said: "It is good news for people seeking fertility treatment that the NHS is making excellent progress in providing fair and consistent access to IVF.

"The option to become a parent is something most of us expect to have.

"People who cannot conceive naturally should have access to NHS treatment, just as they would for any other clinical need."

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