Infertility is a common medical condition that can have a devastating impacts, and affects around one in seven heterosexual couples.
The number of people seeking help for fertility problems coincides with an increasing trend for couples to start families later in life, despite fertility rapidly declining with age after 35.
In 2011, according to NICE, women who received fertility treatment were 35-years-old on average and had been trying to conceive for around four years.
The first step for couples having problems conceiving is to go to their GP, who will advise eligibility for treatment.
The problem that today's guidelines are attempting to rectify is the so-called 'postcode lottery' of treatment, as the NHS Choices website warns:
The treatment you are offered will depend on what is causing your fertility problems and what is available from your primary care trust.
There are sometimes vast discrepancies in what treatments are offered, according to NHS Choices:
- Fertility treatment funded by the NHS varies across the UK
- Waiting lists can be very long
- Criteria patients must meet to be eligible for treatment can vary
There are there main types of fertility treatment:
- Medicines to assist fertility
- Surgical procedures
- Assisted conception: IVF, IUI
The new NICE guidelines are an attempt to ensure people experiencing fertility problems get the best treatment possible, at an earlier stage.
The guidelines should be adopted by local health authorities, and the most important change is the extension of eligibility criteria.
Today NICE have recommended that IVF treatment should be made available for eligible women earlier than previously outlined: women can apply after two years of unprotected intercourse instead of three.
Previously the NHS would not recommend funding IVF treatment for women older than 39. Today this has been amended and women up to 42 should be offered one full cycle of IVF if they have not conceived after two years of unprotected intercourse.
The updated recommendations for the first time cover same-sex couples, those who carry infectious diseases and those who may have physical disabilities that make them unable to have intercourse. Previously these couples would have only been entitled to limited NHS treatments.
Chief Executive of NICE, Sir Andrew Dillon said the new recommendations will ensure NHS patients get to benefit from recent advances in fertility treatment.
Whatever the cause, we know fertility problems can have a potentially devastating effect on people's lives; causing significant distress, depression and possibly leading to the breakdown of relationships. The good news is that, thanks to a number of medical advances over the years, many fertility problems can be treated effectively.