Campaigners say fertility treatment halt 'short-sighted'

Credit: AP

Campaigners have claimed that plans for a hiatus in fertility treatment here are 'short-sighted'.

As part of proposals by the health trusts to deliver savings of £70m by March, health chiefs proposed a five month deferral in fertility treatment.

Advocacy group Fertility Fairness said it was appalled by the plan which would see around 320 new patients denied access to the Regional Fertility Centre until next April, according to Belfast Health Trust data.

The organisation's co-chair Susan Seenan said this would, "cause unnecessary suffering for already stressed patients and is an economically short-sighted measure."

Ms Seenan listed a number of potential secondary effects of infertility - including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Patients are more likely to contact their GPs, see their marriages break down and often find it difficult to hold down jobs, she said.

Deferring funding will also increase the likelihood that more patients will travel abroad for cheaper treatment, the lobby group said, probably inflating the number of risky and costly multiple births.

Sharon Davidson, Northern Ireland co-ordinator for patient charity Fertility Network UK, said distressed patients were desperately awaiting their one chance to try for a baby.

She said, "Couples with fertility problems are already waiting unnecessarily long times: There is currently a lengthy 18-month wait from GP referral to starting IVF."

Patients can have been struggling to conceive for three years before they qualify for NHS treatment.

She added, "Prompt access to NHS fertility services is crucial for patients to have the best possible chance of success."

As part of the proposed cutbacks the five health trusts in the region are also set to reduce reliance on agency staff and locum doctors, while the number of hospital beds available is due to fall in some trust areas.