Government announces huge shake-up to NHS IVF rules

·4-min read

The Government has announced plans to provide equal access to NHS-funded IVF treatment for non-heterosexual couples as part of its Women's Health Strategy for England.

Previously NHS rules stated that couples where both partners were assigned female at birth needed to show proof of trying to conceive a minimum of six times using self-funded intrauterine insemination (IUI) – costing thousands of pounds – before being considered for tax-payer funded fertility treatment.

In comparison, cisgender, heterosexual couples had to try to conceive for 2 years before being considered.

The new strategy, announced on Wednesday, was built around and based off a call for evidence last year which generated over 100,00 responses from all over the country. More than half (55%) of respondents asked for the inclusion of fertility and pregnancy support in the strategy.

Photo credit: Vanessa Nunes - Getty Images
Photo credit: Vanessa Nunes - Getty Images

Removing the need for self-funded IUI means that the NHS treatment pathway for female same-sex couples - and individual women who want to become mothers - will start with six cycles of artificial insemination prior to accessing IVF services if necessary - just like for heterosexual prospective parents.

The rounds of IUI created an impassable financial barrier for many queer couples and single women wanting to start a family. A survey from DIVA magazine, Kantar and Stonewall revealed that a staggering 36% of queer women, trans men and non-binary people found that the most common challenge were affected by the sky-high costs of private fertility treatment.

The new strategy will also see that the Government starts to tackle the IVF "postcode lottery" by enabling couples receiving treatment to compare the performance of their local area to the rest of the country, hoping to 'improve transparency' when looking at the availability of IVF treatment.

Another big change is the removal of the ban currently in place for couples where one or both people already have a child from a past relationship, a move which, alongside the new measures being put in place for same-sex and queer couples, ensures that all 'non-clinical' criteria for IVF treatment is removed.

'We fought for this change after being discriminated against'

Two women delighted by the new legislation are Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, who launched a judicial review legal challenge against their local NHS board in October 2021 stating that the IVF policy at the time discriminated against same-sex and queer couples.

Megan and Whitney first started their baby journey in 2020, 12 years into their relationship. 'We didn’t even know where to start and as we went along, we found many barriers in place and then ultimately realised that discrimination is in place', shares Megan. 'It all comes down to the unfair financial burden that is being placed on the LGBTQ+ community and that is in relation to the eligibility criteria in order to receive fertility treatment on the NHS.'

After processing the initial shock, Megan and Whitney launched a petition to raise awareness, and took legal action the following year.

In a post shared to Instagram they wrote: 'We are delighted by the plans set out in the Women’s Health Strategy to remove discriminatory barriers to artificial insemination and IVF for female same-sex couples across England.'

'Since launching our legal challenge we have heard from same-sex couples about the expensive and time-consuming hoops they have had to jump through to access fertility treatment. We hope that this new strategy will level the playing field and achieve fertility equality for all and will be implemented swiftly to ensure that more loving families will be able to begin their journeys into parenthood.'

'This is exactly what we hoped to achieve when starting our campaign and legal action in the fight for fertility equality. We hoped it would create awareness and to set a precedent and be a catalyst for change', Whitney expresses. 'We’ve heard from so many of our followers that they’re crying, and we’re crying too! Happy tears of course!'

Megan added: 'We are overwhelmed with joy that LGBTQ+ people can finally create the families they’ve long wished for but thought would never be possible for them.'

Good news, indeed.

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