Couples seeking NHS fertility treatment in West Cheshire are being unfairly denied fertility treatment, according to a leading gynaecologist.
Research has revealed a huge discrepancy in IVF services among five neighbouring NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) in Cheshire, all of which serve just under a million people.
While women aged 42 and under are offered the maximum three cycles of IVF by NHS Warrington, those in the four other CCGs - West Cheshire, Eastern Cheshire, South Cheshire, and Vale Royal - can get only one.
Guidelines from The National Institute for Health (NICE) recommends three cycles of IVF for women under 40 and one cycle for some women aged 40 to 42, although nationally, only half the number of CCGs as of four years ago are providing three cycles, while those offering just one cycle has leaped to 61% from 49% in 2013.
Dr Luciano Nardo, clinical director at Cheshire-based Reproductive Health Group, said some women in the North West were being unfairly denied treatment.
He said: “There is something very wrong with NHS policy when neighbouring CCGs are offering different levels of treatment. Where you live, and the fact you have a slightly different postcode, should not be the deciding factor for who gets what level of treatment.
“Sadly, that is becoming increasingly the case, not just in the North West but across the entire country.
“Clinical commissioning groups have different care policies to each other, and decisions being made by them are having a devastating impact on many couples trying to conceive," he added.
“Some couples are being denied the very same treatment that people a few miles down the road are getting, and that is just not right. It is time the CCGs delivered on their responsibilities and gave the IVF care that they are expected to.”
In all five CCGs, couples only qualify for IVF treatment if both partners have no living children from current or previous relationships.
Dr Chris Ritchieson, chair of the West Cheshire CCG, said a formal 12 week public consultation was undertaken from October 25 2016 to January 17 2017.
He said: “Most clinical commissioning groups across the country fund one cycle of IVF on the NHS, while some have stopped funding IVF altogether.
“In West Cheshire, for women aged 23-39 we offer one full cycle in addition to a maximum of six cycles of Intra-uterine Insemination (IUI). However, if IUI is not clinically appropriate, two courses of IVF will be provided.”
Last November, campaign group Fertility Fairness said the problem was at its worst since NICE introduced national fertility guidelines in 2004 and the group has called for the standardisation of eligibility criteria across England.
The organisation also wants a national tariff developed in England for tertiary fertility services, which it says would eliminate regional cost variants and remove a key barrier to CCGs’ compliance with national guidelines.
In Scotland all health boards can fund three full IVF cycles for women under 40 and couples with children from previous relationships.