news

West London patients suffer mounting 'stress' over IVF postcode lottery

Patients are under great pressure to conceive with only one round of IVF treatment funded by NHS, compared to three in neighbouring Buckinghamshire

Women in Hillingdon only get one round of NHS IVF treatment, compared to three in Bucks

IVF patients in Hillingdon are suffering the strain of a 'postcode lottery', by only being allowed one treatment cycle on the NHS , compared to three cycles on offer just miles away.

Three cycles of IVF are recommended by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for women younger than 40 who meet the criteria, but it is local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who have the final say on whether the funding is provided.

Hillingdon is one of eight CCG's obliged by a joint IVF policy which only allows one cycle of IVF treatment, whereas across the border in Buckinghamshire, woman can apply for the NICE recommendation of three.

One 30-year-old Hillingdon woman, who did not want to named, explained the mounting stress of being allowed only one cycle of IVF.

Doctors could not explain why her first cycle in December, at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital , had failed but she puts it down to “stress” and is trying to stump up the cash to pay for another cycle within a month.

She told getwestlondon : “In all honesty, it’s probably the worst thing you can do to somebody in my position.

“You have so much pressure on you to have children anyway, and then when you realise and fully come to terms with the fact that you can’t have children naturally, that in itself is a hurdle, and it’s an additional emotional pressure."

'You've only got one go'

She added: “I’m at the age and stage where a lot of my friends are having children, if not their second child, and they’re all talking about the joys of falling pregnant and I’m having to fight tooth and nail to actually get pregnant.

“You only get one shot. It puts pressure on you to keep stress levels to a minimum and with the best will in the world you can’t control all of your external influences. So you feel like you have to put your life completely on hold.

“You end up in this scenario where you’re constantly over-analysing every single thing you do because you need it to be perfect, because you've only got one go.”

The IVF patient explained that the postcode lottery isn't just about the amount of cycles given, but also the level of care received.

She continued: “Living within the London Borough of Hillingdon, I wasn’t entitled to an AMH blood test and you can’t proceed with IVF without knowing that result, because that gives you an indication of the egg reserves a woman will have.

The 30-year-old, who lives with her husband, says her predicament makes her feel like she “doesn't want to live in borough”.

“All my taxpaying life I’ve lived here and I’m being penalised for living here, whereas my friends in High Wycombe got three rounds of IVF and Hampshire gets two and they're only a couple of miles down the road either way.

“It really does depend on where you live and I think that’s absolutely appalling.

“Because it’s a taboo subject you just feel like you have to take your one round.

“I’d actually like to buy a house in the borough, which happens to be one of the most expensive areas in the country to buy, so we’re having to use our house savings to fund our IVF because we don’t have any more rounds.”

'Women facing an uphill struggle'

Graham Hawkes, CEO of Healthwatch Hillingdon, a health and social care watchdog, thinks the CCG 'one cycle' policy could be viewed as “institutionalised discrimination” and should be addressed.

He said: “Access to NHS funded IVF is not easy and women already need to meet strict medical criteria before they can be considered for IVF and must have tried all other options first.

“This is not a life-style choice, nor an “easy option” for women but changes to our society and demands made on women, make starting a family difficult enough without facing a postcode lottery in access to IVF.

"Women across North West London are facing an uphill struggle to access fertility treatment that has been recommended by NICE as been both clinically effective and cost-effective."

Mr Hawkes believes three cycles can be delivered by “commissioning nationally and introducing a standard tariff with comprehensive quality measures".

“This is a very emotive subject and we have seen from the experiences of those women that have contacted us, how the impacts of infertility can have far reaching effects on couples and their families.”

'Speaking up can make a difference'

Hillingdon CCG says it decided to offer one cycle of IVF, based on health priorities locally, taking into account the “latest evidence and non-mandatory NICE guidelines”.

A spokesperson said: “More recently, NICE has issued new clinical standards for IVF. CCGs across North West London reviewed the standards and took the decision to maintain our current policy because, while the advice had changed, the evidence behind it had not.

“There are many pressing demands on CCG budgets, and we have responsibility for deciding how best to meet these demands, using clinical judgement, and taking into account wider financial and commissioning issues.

“By having a shared policy across North West London, we are treating all the women we commission services for equally while recognising we can not control the decisions and priorities of other organisations who commission this service.”

Healthwatch Hillingdon say they want the views of Hillingdon residents represented on this matter.

Mr Hawkes added: “I would urge anybody who has experienced fertility treatment in Hillingdon to come forward and tell us their story. Speaking up can make a difference.

“It is through gathering these experiences that we can build strong evidence to challenge and influence commissioning decisions.”

You can contact Healthwatch Hillingdon on 01895 272997, or email: raj.grewal@healthwatchhillingdon.org.uk

View full mobile page