Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 15:48 UK

Pledge on free NHS IVF treatment

A ground-breaking initiative to provide free access to fertility treatment for people desperate to have children in the eastern region starts on Friday.

NHS East of England will be the first region in the UK to fund all eligible couples for up to six attempts at pregnancy with fertility treatment.

To qualify for treatment couples must meet specific eligibility criteria.

In particular, women must be aged between 23 and 39 with no children from the current relationship.

Women must also be registered with a GP in one of the six counties in the East of England: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Dr Thomas Matthews welcomed the provision of free access to fertility treatment

The six attempts includes a maximum of three full cycles of IVF treatment with a maximum of a further three frozen embryo transfers, totalling a maximum of six embryo transfers.

The initiative has been warmly welcomed by Mike Macnamee, chief executive of Bourn Hall Clinic - based near Cambridge - which was established by IVF pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards.

"It was always the dream of Steptoe and Edwards when they established Bourn Hall as the world's first IVF clinic, that treatment would be available to all who needed it," he said.

"We are delighted that the East of England is taking a lead in making IVF more widely accessible and creating a clearer and more consistent treatment pathway across the primary care trusts."

In the general population 70% will conceive naturally within 18 months of trying for a baby and 90% after two years.

Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said: "This is great news for patients across the 14 Primary Care Trusts (PTCs)in the East of England area.

"We would now urge those PCTs who still do not provide patients with access to three full cycles or who apply such restrictive social criteria to reconsider their policies."

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