MP critical of decision to stop NHS funded IVF treatment in the county, calling it a “postcode lottery”

Shailesh Vara MP has slammed the CCG.

Shailesh Vara MP has slammed the CCG. - Credit: Archant

Shailesh Vara MP for North West Cambridgeshire has expressed his concern at the decision taken by the governing board of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to indefinitely suspend NHS funded IVF treatment.

Healthwatch is calling for CCG to reverse funding decision.

Healthwatch is calling for CCG to reverse funding decision. - Credit: Archant

The decision was made at last nights meeting (Tuesday) despite the National Institute for Health and Care England (NICE) guidelines that state routine IVF treatment should be provided by all CCGs and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is one of just five across the country not to do so.

Mr Vara has said that he has written to the CCG on a number of occasions urging them to retain NHS funded IVF treatment and he has also spoken personally with the CCG including just a few weeks ago, stressing the importance of this service.

This decision is expected to save £700,000 a year, less than one per cent of the CCG's deficit and which by no means represents the significant human cost of the decision. This is despite the Government's commitment to an increase of £20 billion in real terms funding for the NHS by 2023/24.

Mr Vara said: "I am deeply disappointed that the CCG has taken the decision to stop the provision of IVF treatment.

"The CCG is in a tiny minority of Clinical Commissioning Groups in the country to take this decision and they have clearly sought to ignore not only my request for the retention of the service but also the advice by the former Health Minister as well as NICE.

"For far too long, fertility services have been seen as a 'postcode lottery' aspect of NHS care and this deeply unfair decision will cause untold distress and suffering to couples wishing to start a family.

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"Given that the sum of money involved is such a small proportion of the CCG's budget but one with such a significant and meaningful effect on the community, even at this late stage I sincerely hope the CCG will reconsider its decision."

The previous Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, also wrote to the CCG in June to reinforce the importance of NHS funded IVF provision, stating;

"I cannot emphasise enough that it is not acceptable for CCGs to offer no routine access to fertility services."

A spokesperson said the CCG is the third lowest funded in England and that it has been a "difficult decision".

The CCG estimates that 159 patients have been impacted by the suspension between September 2017 and June 2019, with a further 302 patients expected to be affect by 2021.

Director of quality, patient safety and experience, Carol Anderson said at the meeting that the wider public rate IVF as less of a priority because of the relatively small number of people with fertility issues.

She said: "I sadly think [IVF] will always come further down the list than hips, cancer, end of life - and that's mainly because I don't think people who have no fertility issues have a true understanding of the potential impact it can have on somebody".

The full recommendation approved by the CCG said: "The governing body is asked to approve the recommendation from the integrated performance and assurance committee to continue not to fund the provision of specialist fertility services until such point that the CCG returns to a sustainable financial surplus or is instructed otherwise by our regulators."

Tracey Bambrough, one of the founders of online fertility magazine IVF Babble, said: "This is a cruel and crushing blow for anyone who is suffering the devastation of infertility, not only in Cambridgeshire but all across the country, and sets a worrying precedent.

"At IVF Babble we believe that IVF and fertility treatments should be fully accessible through the NHS to anyone who is struggling to start a family due to infertility, which is exactly why - in partnership with Fertility Network UK - we gathered more than 100,000 signatures in a petition to end inequality and unfairness when it comes to NHS fertility services.

"Scrapping IVF and fertility treatment should not used as a way of saving money. We will be monitoring the situation closely and fully intend to continue lobbying the government to do more to ensure the NICE guidelines are adhered to.

"It is shocking that a person's right to have a child can be taken away so easily - the psychological and emotional impact will be huge, and it is clear that NHS mental health services will be placed under even more pressure due to this reckless decision."

The CCG says there are two exceptions to the suspension of specialist fertility services: egg/sperm/embryo storage for cancer patients; and sperm washing provided to men who have a chronic viral infection, whose female partner does not, and where intrauterine insemination is being considered.