Health department tells funding body it is “unacceptable” to cut all NHS IVF treatment

IVF treatment is carried out at the world-famous Bourn Hall in Cambridgeshire

IVF treatment is carried out at the world-famous Bourn Hall in Cambridgeshire - Credit: Archant

The health body that funds IVF services in Cambridgeshire has been told “it is not acceptable to offer no routine access to fertility treatment” and deferred an announcement on future funding.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) was due to meet on Tuesday to consider the reinstatement of NHS funding for IVF, but just 24 hours before the meeting, health chiefs announced they were postponing the final decision until August 6.

Campaigners against the withdrawal of services, believe the CCG were unlikely to reinstate funding for the treatment as it was part of a wider cost-cutting package of measures.

This newspaper has seen a letter from the Department of Health and Social Care in which MP Jackie Doyle Price makes it clear that all CCGs should be following NICE fertility guidelines.

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

"All CCGs should move towards full implementation of the NICE fertility guideline recommendations."

She went on: "The publication of the commissioning guidance, taken together with the benchmark price, provide CCGs with the tools to address an inequality that has, for too long, been allowed to grow - to blight the lives of patients and to damage the reputation of the NHS. I urge you to grasp this opportunity to end the lottery of fertility treatment, once and for all."

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Bourn Hall Clinic provides NHS funded IVF treatment across the East of England and is the only provider with clinics based in the region. The facility has been providing NHS treatment for more than 10 years and is hopeful of a positive outcome for patients.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, lead clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic, responded to the announcement on Monday: "We welcome the minister's letter which recommends fair and equal access to fertility services. The NICE guidelines recommend that three cycles is the most clinical and cost-effective way to deliver IVF for patients and when Bourn Hall was able to offer this to Cambridgeshire patients, who met the NHS eligibility requirements, eight out of 10 patients went on to have a baby.

"Cutting funding for IVF in Cambridgeshire has been devastating for so many people. Infertility is a serious health issue that impacts emotional and mental wellbeing, and pushes relationships to breaking point. The current postcode lottery of a system is leaving people in limbo without any resolution.

"The savings Bourn Hall could offer the CCG by providing a more cost effective pathway could be used to mitigate the costs of reinstating NHS funding for IVF. We hope this delay in decision making will give us the opportunity to meet with the CCG and discuss our suggested improvements to the fertility journey and improve patient outcomes for all."

In a statement, Dr Gary Howsam, clinical chairman of the CCG, said: "Since publishing our review of services, we have received a large number of submissions and new information from a number of organisations and we think it is right that we give our governing body more time to consider the new information and we seek clarifications if necessary. The CCG governing body are expecting to meet again on July 16 to review all this information.

"Funding for healthcare across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is under unprecedented pressure. We are currently buying more than we can afford, overspending by more than £1 million pounds a week, which means we need to make some difficult decisions about the services we can afford to provide in the future. Our funding allocation is also not keeping up with population growth or demand and we are working with our local representatives to lobby government for a review of the NHS funding formula. Other CCGs in our regions receive considerably more that we do, for example West Norfolk receives more than £350 per person than we do."

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has written an open letter to the CCF to support the call for fairer funding and share their worries about the plans to cut NHS services.

Chairman of the group, Val Moore, said: "We join you and local MPs to urge the Department of Health and Social Care to recognise the extent of underfunding per head of population, plus the growth in the local populations, to provide fairer funding for our local NHS.

"We are very concerned about the impact that this financial crisis will have upon the local population given the size of the £192 million challenge. In the meantime, we know the CCG must make some difficult decisions about what they are able to pay for. What is important to us is that the CCG are open and honest about the hard decisions that need to be made and how they make them. They need to talk to people about any decisions before they are made and as part of making any changes."