City MP Chris Matheson is at odds with the Chester hospital boss over whether the opening of a profit-driven fertility clinic in the women and children’s building represents privatisation.
Cost cutting means couples struggling to conceive are only offered one cycle of IVF on the NHS instead of up to three following a change in policy outlined in April.
Now fertility company IVI has set up within the Countess’s Fertility and Assisted Conception Unit selling an IVF treatment package, including one cycle, priced £4,230 plus the cost of expensive fertility drugs (£550-£2,000).
Labour MP Mr Matheson says the move shows privatisation in action but hospital chief executive Tony Chambers hit back insisting it is ‘not privatisation’ but an ‘innovative’ partnership that will upgrade facilities available to NHS patients.
The MP is refusing to back down while stressing he is being critical of government strategy and 'not attacking Tony'.
He said: “I’m sticking to my guns. This is a private clinic operating in the NHS. There is now one round of IVF available on the NHS then you have to go private. There may be super duper facilities but you only get them once then it will cost you £8,000 if you need three cycles.
“It’s creeping privatisation and it’s not acceptable.”
The Countess says the partnership with IVI, who are believed to be using the same medical team employed by the hospital and will pay a market rent for the clinic space, has secured the future of the service and injected a £4m investment into new technology.
Hospital boss Mr Chambers commented: “The Countess has formed this partnership to secure the future of maternity and gynaecological services in West Cheshire. This is not privatisation.
"NHS provision will continue just the same and patients will benefit from upgraded facilities and financial investment in the unit. This will enable us to retain and improve fertility services and local care for women in Cheshire and Wirral.”
Consultant gynaecologist Nabil Haddad, who works at the Countess, said: “Our fertility team has driven this partnership in order to secure the best future for patients. Without this partnership the service was under real threat and may have resulted in our patients being referred to other providers, often at a significant distance.
"Patients who have started their fertility journey with us, want to continue it with us and this partnership will enable us to do so.”
The launch of the IVI clinic comes after West, East and South Cheshire and Vale Royal clinical commissioning groups cut the number of NHS-funded IVF cycles from three to one, with some clinical exceptions, and introduced stricter eligibility criteria for access.
For example, couples will be forced to try and conceive for three years instead of two before they are considered eligible for treatment. There are further restrictions around body mass index (BMI) and smoking status for male partners – restrictions previously only applied to the female.
IVI employs more than 2,000 health professionals in over 70 clinics worldwide.
Enda McVeigh, CEO of IVI UK and associate professor at the University of Oxford Nuffield department of obstetrics and gynaecology, said: “As part of our launch across the UK market, we’re hugely excited to have established a clinic in Chester.
“The Countess of Chester is a fantastic hospital with an exceptional reputation, and is the perfect location through which to offer our pioneering treatments.
“This is a significant investment, both financially and operationally, and we look forward to growing our offering in Chester over the coming years.”