Sat, 12 Jan 2019
WOMEN over the age of 35 in West Berkshire are automatically being refused additional IVF treatment on the NHS – with the district being one of the worst areas in the country for couples trying to conceive.
New figures show West Berkshire has one of the lowest cut-off points for women who are eligible for the treatment, dashing the hopes of many who are trying to start a family in their later years.
In Newbury, as in other areas across the Thames Valley, only one fresh IVF cycle is offered to women under 35, compared to the three cycles offered elsewhere.
They are also not offered Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET).
An FET is a cycle in which frozen embryos from a previous fresh IVF or donor egg cycle are thawed and then transferred back into a woman’s uterus.
And women aged 35 or above are automatically refused IVF cycles at all four Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the Thames Valley, including NHS Berkshire West CCG.
Guidelines from health watchdog NICE recommend that women under 40 should be offered three fresh cycles of IVF and one fresh cycle for those aged between 40 and 42.
A Freedom of Information request conducted by campaign group Fertility Fairness showed that the district is one of 12 areas in the UK where women are automatically being refused treatment if they are not referred before their 35th birthday.
There is also a huge disparity across the country when it comes to offering IVF cycles, which critics have coined as a ‘postcode lottery’ for couples trying to conceive.
South Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cumbria and Greater Manchester are among some of the regions in the UK where cycles of IVF are offered by local CCGs for women up to the age of 42.
But for women aged between 40 and 42 trying to conceive in West Berkshire and West Hampshire it is almost impossible to do so on the NHS, with Newbury and District CCG offering no cycles for this age group at all.
In July, Anna and Craig Minter, formerly of Thatcham, relocated to Bury, Greater Manchester, in order to boost their chances of becoming parents, having spent four years trying to conceive.
And Newbury resident Alison Green was told her BMI was too high for IVF treatment when she was 36.
After dropping eight stone in just one year, Mrs Green was then informed that she was too old to be offered IVF on the NHS, leaving her with no choice but to pursue treatment privately – all of which proved unsuccessful.
Mrs Green’s sister, who lives in Gloucestershire, was offered three cycles of IVF on the NHS and fell pregnant on her second cycle aged 34, before having twins on her third cycle, aged 37.
Mrs Green, now 46, went on to have an unsuccessful, five year-long adoption journey.
She said: “I do not think everybody should be offered three cycles because I know the NHS cannot afford to pay that.
“But the postcode lottery is a nightmare, as it should be the same criteria for all.
“Obviously, there are a lot of mixed emotions because my sister knows how I felt about not having children.
“I love my nieces and nephew to bits, but then there’s always the other side of the coin – why didn’t it happen to me?”
Co-chair of Fertility Fairness and chief executive of national charity Fertility Network UK, Aileen Feeney, condemned the lack of IVF options available to women across the district.
Ms Feeney said: “Infertility is a devastating disease causing depression, suicidal feelings, relationship breakdown and social isolation, removing the recommended clinical help or making it harder to access is cruel and economically shortsighted.
“Access to NHS treatment should be according to medical need and not your postcode.”
A spokesperson for Berkshire West CCG said the body had a “legal duty” to remain within its NHS budget, meaning some treatments, including IVF, cannot be provided for all patients.
The body also justified the criteria in refusing IVF to women in West Berkshire beyond the age of 35 on the grounds of clinical and cost effectiveness, as female fertility declines, on average, after that age.