Health body hits out at proposed cuts to fertility service

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire - Credit: Archant

A health watchdog has criticised plans to reduce fertility services in Cambridgeshire as part of a round of budget cuts.

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough says the proposed funding cuts are against national guidance, will affect poor people the most and may not save the planned £700,000 from local NHS budgets.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which makes decisions on spending in the health service, is proposing to stop paying for in-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) treatments, other than for patients undergoing cancer treatment and men who have a chronic viral infection (primarily HIV) and whose female partner does not. They have promised to review the decision in 2019.

A consultation on the proposal closed on July 31 and the CCG’s governing body was due to consider its decision as The Hunts Post went to press last night (Tuesday).

Healthwatch insists that saving money is the sole aim of the proposal by the commissioning group, which is under significant financial pressures.

Val Moore, Healthwatch chairman, said: “We recognise the significant financial pressures that the CCG is facing and the need to make difficult decisions about future health services.

“However, there was lost opportunity to have a broader conversation about the values underpinning cost-cutting. People will be concerned about what treatment or service may be considered for cuts next.

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“The CCG’s proposal does not follow the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on fertility treatments. This recommends that women under 40 years receive three full cycles of IVF, and women aged 40-42 receive one cycle.”

Sandie Smith, Healthwatch chief executive, said: “The proposed cuts will have a significant impact on the small number of people who will be affected, particularly those who cannot afford to pay for private treatment.

“There are also worries that this will affect these individuals’ mental health. A survey from Fertility Network UK last year, showed that 90 per cent of people affected by infertility admitted to feelings of depression and 42 per cent of even feeling suicidal.

“The CCG may not save as much money as they think and costs to the local NHS may even increase, as patients are likely to go for IVF treatment overseas. This is more likely to result in multiple births which will cost the NHS more.”

Dr Gary Howsam, chairman of the CCG, said: “We have to make some very difficult decisions about how best to spend our allocation. We have a growing demand for all types of healthcare services, as well as a significant deficit to clear. We are now in the difficult position where we have to evaluate every service we commission.”