New IVF guidelines offer hope to childless couples

Embryos are prepared for freezing before vitrification process for IVF Photo: Press Association

Almost from its beginnings, IVF treatment for infertility has been bedevilled by unfairness and just plain stinginess on the part of the NHS.

Most IVF techniques were pioneered in private clinics and the NHS was slow to take them up and niggardly in its provision.

I can't help feeling that behind this is the idea that infertility (which affects about 1 in 6 couples) isn't really a medical condition. Well it is. And although things have improved, there are still plenty of examples of patients denied proper treatment.

Professor Tim Child, of the Oxford Fertility Centre, says he's still seeing patients in the Oxford area who are only given one cycle of treatment, while friends living a few miles away over some NHS administrative border get three cycles - which is what the government watchdog NICE recommended nearly a decade ago.

Today NICE has released updated guidelines, which emphasise yet again that suitable patients should get three goes at IVF - not one or none as they do in some NHS areas. The guidelines also extend treatment in two important ways.

Currently, you can only get IVF on the NHS if you are under 39. But, Dr Child say, IVF's success rate has improved in the last decade so much that it should now be extended to women up to the age of 42.

And, just as important, the new guidelines are more sympathetic to couples trying to get pregnant.

At the moment, they have to try the natural way for three years before they can get IVF. Dr Child told ITV news:

I see couples on a daily basis who've been trying to get pregnant for 2 or more years. But with NHS funding of IVF, they have to wait until three years have elapsed. And the number of babies born in that third year of trying is so small, in some ways it doesn't make sense

The new guidelines say they'll only have to try for two years. Problem is guidelines are only guidelines. And in the past some parts of the NHS have simply ignored the guidelines on IVF.

One reason to hope that it might be different this time is that, in Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms, there are new bodies responsible for commissioning (i.e. paying for) NHS care.

I hope they're a tad more sympathetic to the plight of people who desperately want children but can't have them because their bodies won't cooperate.

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