Doctors denying IVF in some parts of the country are "going against" the core principles of the NHS, one doctor has said.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at Nice
Infertility is a recognised medical condition that can affect people of any age and has a potentially devastating effect on people's lives.
It can cause significant distress, depression and can possibly lead to the breakdown of relationships.
Our updated guidance which published last year provides clear recommendations on the most clinically and cost effective way to treat people with fertility problems. Unfortunately, we know that not all areas are following our guidance to the letter.
This creates variations in treatment within the NHS, which...goes against the fundamental aims of the NHS.
- Couples should be referred to a fertility specialist after their first full year of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.
- They should be referred sooner if they know of a clinical cause behind their infertility.
- Women under 40 who have been trying to conceive are offered three full cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
- Patients aged 40 to 42 are offered one cycle.
- The quality standards also say that people who are of a reproductive age who are preparing to have treatment for cancer should be offered to have their eggs or sperm frozen and preserved.
The IVF postcode lottery on the NHS needs to end if couples struggling to conceive are to have fair access to fertility drugs, the health watchdog has said.
Treatments available to couples trying to get pregnant were set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last year.
However, it has emerged many of the treatments are rationed or just not available from some health bodies, leaving some couples to pay thousands of pounds as they try to have a baby.
Nice recommended infertile couples where the woman is under the age of 40 are offered three full cycles of IVF treatment, but figures have shown health bodies are only offering one or none at all.
IVF pioneer Lord Winston has warned that a growing market for fertility treatments could "threaten our humanity" if the rich were able to pay for so-called 'designer babies'.
The fertility expert who developed key advancements in IVF treatment told academics at a conference "we have been carried away" by breakthroughs in reproduction.
The Daily Mail reported him as saying that enthusiasm to develop fertility techniques and desperate patients has become a "toxic mix".
During his speech at the University of Kent he said humans may end up with a society where some people may actually have something "that might threaten our humanity".
But Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said parents are not interested in enhancing their babies' genes.
"Most infertile couples are desperate for a baby, rather than a specific type of baby, and I don't see that changing."
Some 72% disagree with women using IVF to conceive a baby when they are passed their childbearing years, a poll has found.
Research, carried out alongside a documentary on older mothers, also showed how one quarter did not believe women should bring babies into the world past the age of 40 and men should stop at 43.
Over 2,000 people were quizzed across the UK and 31% of those said the current NHS limit for IVF, 42, is too old.
A further 26% supported lowering the age limit to 40 for either IVF on the NHS or private treatment.
When asked what was the ideal age for women to have their first baby, 27 was the most popular age.
A four-year old girl has been awarded £35,000 in damages after her mother was given abnormal donor sperm at a leading London fertility clinic, which may result in the girl facing fertility problems when she is older.
The child's mother attended the London Women's Clinic in Harley Street for IVF treatment using an anonymous sperm donor and gave birth to the baby girl in October 2009.
The four-year-old girl is healthy, but has a rare genetic defect that means she is likely to need IVF if she wants to start a family of her own, as she is at greater risk of miscarriage or giving birth to a child that suffers from severe disabilities.
The clinic's solicitor, Nico Fabri apologised to the mother and daughter for its duty of care failings at a brief hearing in London earlier today.
The mother's solicitor, Matthew Waite said: "My client understandably put her trust in the clinic and expected the care she was paying for to be of the highest standard."
"Choosing to undergo IVF with an anonymous sperm donor was not a decision I made lightly, but I believed the London Women's Clinic was one of the leading fertility centres in the country and I spent £30,000 with the clinic expecting a high-level service," said the mother.
The world's fist test-tube baby, Louise Brown, has called for IVF to be made more readily available and said more people should have access to it on the NHS.
It is difficult to say what it is like to be the first test-tube baby as I have been brought up with it. People ask what it feels like, but it's just always been there; it's my life," she added.
I understand more now and I just think my mum was fantastic.
I think she was just very brave but I suppose if you're told you can't have children, you'll do anything.
The world's first test-tube baby has paid tribute to the fertility pioneers who gave her and millions of others life as she celebrates her 35th birthday.
Louise Brown's birth attracted controversy, with religious leaders expressing concern over the use of artificial intervention and some raising fears that science was creating "Frankenbabies" who could experience medical difficulties later in life.
There are now thought to be more than 5.5 million IVF babies worldwide and, as she prepared to celebrate her birthday with a private family meal, Mrs Brown said she hoped the public could now see the benefits of the breakthrough.
"When I was born they all said it shouldn't be done and that it was messing with God and nature but it worked and obviously it was meant to be," she added.
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in reproductive and developmental medicine at the University of Sheffield and chairman of the British Fertility Society, said those embarking on IVF should feel reassured by the reports findings, he said:
This is a very important study which defines the risks of IVF children being born with two neurodevelopmental disorders. It is a large study and is exactly the kind we need if we are to give patients accurate information before they embark on treatment.
The main message of the paper is a positive one, suggesting that any risk of these disorders is very low, or absent, in comparison to children conceived naturally. However it does highlight the importance of preferentially using standard IVF rather than Icsi, and also using ejaculated sperm rather than those recovered surgically from the testicle, in situations where it is possible to do so.
Patients about to embark on treatment should not worry and should discuss any concerns about their treatment plan with the team responsible for their care.
Study leader Dr Avi Reichenberg, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said:
Our study shows that treatments developed to manage male infertility are associated with an increased risk for developmental disorders in offspring.
The exact mechanism is unclear, but there are a number of risk factors, from selection of IVF procedures, to multiple embryos, and to pre-term birth.
Whilst intellectual disability or autism remain a rare outcome for IVF, being aware of the increased risk associated with specific types of IVF means offspring at risk can be identified and potentially monitored for developmental disorders, ensuring they receive early detection and appropriate support and care.
The researchers insisted the research should not hinder childless couples seeking IVF treatment.Co-author Dr Karl-Gosta Nygren, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said:
There's no question that we would stop any treatment or anything like that because of the findings. On the contrary, the results are reassuring.
It's important to remember that the majority of children are born perfectly healthily following IVF.
Our study provides much-needed information for parents and clinicians on the relative risks of modern IVF treatments, enabling them to make the most informed choice possible.