A controversial proposal to suspend IVF treatment for couples in Cambridgeshire was confirmed by a health body, despite thousands of people signing a petition against the plan.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) confirmed the proposal at a meeting of its governing body yesterday (Tuesday), with the routine commissioning of the treatment now suspended until April 2019.

The decision was taken following a 20-week public consultation over the summer.

According to the CCG, some 1,311 responses were received during the consultation; including e-mails, letters, and telephone calls as well as completed questionnaires. The CCG also received a petition with 2,278 signatures.

Despite opposition to the proposal, however, the CCG said financial pressures meant it had to find savings in its budget.

Dr Gary Howsam, chief clinical officer for the CCG, said: "The response to the consultation showed that people feel strongly about this issue, and for that reason this was a very difficult decision for the governing body to make and we understand that people will be disappointed.

"The CCG has finite resources to fund a whole range of health services and treatments. We need to save £46.5m this financial year, and so we have had to review all areas of our spending and to make some difficult decisions.

"The decision to suspend routinely commissioning specialist fertility services is a financially necessary decision, following evaluation of the options available to us to reduce expenditure, and we have said that we will review this decision in April 2019."

In response to concerns raised during the consultation, the CCG agreed that it would review the decision in April 2019, and monitor the impact on the local NHS of multiple birth levels and any impact experienced by mental health services.

The decision to suspend provision of specialist fertility services will take immediate effect. There are two exceptions to the restrictions on specialist fertility provision, these are: Fertility preservation for patients undergoing treatment that has a significant likelihood of making them infertile (e.g. cancer); and sperm washing for men who have a chronic viral infection (e.g. HIV) and whose female partner does not, in order to limit the transmission of a serious, pre-existing viral condition.