Access to IVF for single women could be restricted in Wales

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Plans to modify access to IVF have been put forward in Wales. The new proposals would restrict access to IVF for single people and women aged over 40. Under draft guidelines, access would improve for heterosexual couples where the woman is aged under 40.

The Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (WHSSC) stated that it is standard practice to review policies, but the news has been met with anger by some. Lucy Mills, 38, described the proposals as a “backwards step” and said that restricted access to fertility treatment is “a form of discrimination.” Lucy, from Brecon, has been undergoing fertility treatment for the last 18 months. She has spent £30,000 on trying to have a baby. After going through multiple rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) treatment at a private clinic, Lucy lost three pregnancies and now qualifies for NHS treatment.

If the proposals are given the green light, Lucy would not be eligible for IVF on the NHS because she is single. Talking about the new guidelines, Lucy suggested that it was much more common for people to want to become a parent without having a partner now and stressed that having a baby is not a “lifestyle choice” for her. She is desperate to be a mother but she hasn’t found a partner. She added that she isn’t in this position by choice and said that many other people will be in a similar situation .

Having spent around £30,000 on treatment that hasn’t worked, Lucy is worried that she may be plunged into more debt if she cannot access fertility treatment on the NHS. She used her savings for a house deposit and put money on credit cards trying to become a parent and she fears that many others will find themselves in a similar situation because they dream of having a baby. She said that trying to become a parent when it’s not possible to do so with a partner or there are complications related to fertility “shouldn’t be like that” and called for the proposals to be considered very carefully.

The proposed plans would limit access to fertility treatment for some people but they would improve access for others. To qualify for NHS treatment, couples will need to prove that they have been together for two years and have a diagnosis, which confirms infertility. The current 12-month wait to start IVF would be scrapped and guidelines related to BMI (body mass index) range would increase from 19-30 to 18-35. Same sex couples would have access to twelve cycles of IUI but women over 40 would no longer have access to the single cycle currently available to them. Emma Rees, coordinator for Fertility Network UK in Wales, encouraged people who will be affected by the proposals to come forward and share their opinions and feedback with the WHSCC. She said that she was “angered and aghast” at the plans and described the changes as “dramatic cuts to NHS fertility treatment in Wales.” A public consultation on the proposals will run until February 17th 2023. 

Prof Iolo Doull, from the WHSCC, said that it was “a normal part of our work to regularly review policies” and confirmed that Fertility Network UK was one of many stakeholders being consulted on the issue. Access to fertility treatment varies across the UK. In England, decisions about who qualifies for NHS treatment are made locally while in Scotland, couples have access to three cycles of IVF.  The Welsh Government has encouraged the public to get involved with the consultation and share their feedback with the WHSCC.