The NHS has introduced new cost-cutting proposals that could spell the end of IVF treatment for thousands of couples.
Currently, women can receive a certain number of cycles on the NHS up until the age of 42. Under the new proposed guidelines, only women between the ages of 30 and 35 would be eligible for NHS-funded treatment.
With over 50,000 women undergoing IVF each year in the UK, that’s a lot of people who will be left disappointed.
However, many women have opted to receive IVF abroad after long waiting lists and a ‘postcode lottery’ system have diminished their chances of falling pregnant in the UK.
Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire are seriously considering implementing the new measures in order to halve the number of IVF patients.
“We know how hard it can be for couples who are struggling to conceive and will continue to offer fertility treatment to hundreds of people every year,” a spokesperson for the health providers told the Guardian.
“Clinical evidence shows that treatment between the ages of 30-35 offers the highest possible chance of success.”
Several high-profile critics have raised concerns over the consequences of such a measure.
Professor Simon Fishel, who was a pioneer of IVF in the UK, told the BBC: “We live in a world where women aren’t trying to have children until much later than what it was 20 years ago, and if they find out at that later stage they need help and are told ‘you’re just too old’, that’s utterly devastating.”
The Fertility Network said they were “deeply concerned” at the news and lack of funding available for fertility services.
“It is arbitrary and unethical. There will be many women, who do not meet this criterion, who experience the emotional distress of infertility, who will have their hopes dashed,” said deputy chief executive Leceia Gordon-Mackenzie.
The current cost of an IVF treatment cycle is around £5000. To be eligible for NHS funding, women under the age of 40 must have been trying to get pregnant through “regular unprotected sex” for two years.
Women aged 40-42 can be offered one IVF cycle on the NHS if they have never had the treatment before, have been trying for a baby for two years and show no evidence of a low ovarian reserve (egg count).
Success rates vary with younger women more likely to be successful. Statistics show that 32% of women under 35 were successful in 2010 with that percentage falling to 20% for women aged 38-39 and 13% for women between the ages of 40 and 42.
Over 250,000 children have been born through IVF since its introduction in 1991. That number is set to stagnate if this proposal goes ahead – especially with the fact that 13 areas in England have already severely restricted or stopped IVF treatment altogether.
A number of celebrities have successfully undergone IVF treatment over the age of 35. These include actress Elizabeth Banks, model Brooke Shields and Celine Dion who gave birth to twins when she was 43.
With the assumption that women will stay home to look after the baby, isn’t it time we put our foot down when it comes to measures that force women to choose between having a career and being a mother?
Many women are only just enjoying the tastes of leadership at the age of 30 and will be reluctant to give that up for a family. And they shouldn’t have to. After all, having a baby at the age of 40 is far from shocking; it’s a real reality for many career-driven individuals.
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