Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 13:32 UK

'We were on the verge of moving'

Gary and Dana Smith
Gary and Dana Smith say it has been an emotional rollercoaster

More than 80% of NHS primary care trusts in England do not offer the recommended three free cycles of IVF to infertile couples, an MP has claimed.

A report from Tory MP Grant Shapps also found that trusts vary widely in the criteria they set for IVF eligibility with half of trusts excluding couples in which one of the partners has a child from a previous relationship.

It is a scenario that Gary Smith, 35, and his wife Dana, 36, know only too well.

After applying to Mid Essex PCT for IVF treatment, they were told they did not qualify because Gary already had a child from a previous relationship.

I felt really angry and really treated unfairly, like I was being punished for something
Dana Smith

It prompted him to research the varying criteria in place at different PCTs and he realised they would have to move house if they were to get at least one cycle of IVF on the NHS.

"Last October we got to the stage where we were referred for fertility treatment and we found out at the eleventh hour that we were ineligible because I had a child from a previous relationship, which as you can imagine caused a lot of distress," says Gary.

"I began ringing around other PCTs to find out whether we would be eligible because we had made our minds up we were going to move to an area where we would get funding."

The couple had come up with a shortlist of areas from where they would still be able to commute to their jobs.

But then just as they were about to move, Mid Essex PCT changed their rules and told the couple they were now eligible for IVF.

Desperate

Dana says she found the initial decision very hard to deal with.

"I couldn't have felt more desperate - no one understands unless they have been through this.

"I felt really angry and really treated unfairly, like I was being punished for something."

Gary says he understands the argument that there are limited NHS resources but says PCTs who are restricting IVF in this way are failing to take into account the psychological impact of being refused treatment.

"Because it's not uniform, especially for something as emotive as IVF, it adds to people's level of frustration.

"You think, if only I was 20 miles down the road we would have hope."

The couple are due to start treatment in a few months and say they feel very lucky.

"It highlights the rollercoaster that people are on depending on their postcode.

"It could have made or broke us as a couple and there are a lot of people in the same position."

'Pretty grim'

The experience of Rod Wiles and his wife Victoria illustrates how people at are the mercy of their address.

When they lived in Hampshire, the couple were forced to pay privately for two unsuccessful rounds of IVF after their PCT said it did not have the funds to offer any cycles on the NHS.

"We were extremely disappointed. It is pretty grim, especially when time is against you, there's a limited window in which IVF is worth doing in regard to ages and this was against us," Mr Wiles told the BBC News website.

The first round cost them £4,500 and their GP paid for the drugs as he was so frustrated with Mid-Hampshire PCT's decision.

The government says you're entitled to one round, how then can your local PCT say, 'sorry, we can't do it'
Rod Wiles

"You have only a 20-30% chance of it working, so you begin to question how many times you can afford to try before you give up," he said.

In 2006, the couple moved to Umberleigh in north Devon for unrelated reasons, where they discovered the local PCT would fund one IVF cycle.

Their treatment was successful and the couple now have a 15-month old daughter called Beatrice.

Mr Wiles says such directives, which receive funding from central government, should also managed centrally.

"The government says you're entitled to one round, how then can your local PCT say, 'sorry, we can't do it'," he said.

"Giving them the responsibility for distributing the funding is not good when it results in people not being given the treatment they are entitled to," said Mr Wiles.



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