26/08/2003

NHS may offer free fertility treatment

Couples with infertility problems should not have to pay for fertility treatment from the NHS, according to recommendations from a government watchdog.

The latest draft of clinical guideline on assessment and management of fertility problems from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has recommended limited treatment of people with fertility problems via the NHS in England and Wales.

The guideline, which is being developed by the National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health on behalf of Nice, could mean an end to infertility treatment which has been branded a “postcode lottery” depending on the local health trust’s policy.

However, corporate affairs director for Nice, Anne-Toni Rodgers, warned that Nice had not been tasked with looking at the affordability of fertility treatment, nor the social issues around its use.

Ms Rodgers said: “Our job is to produce a treatment guideline which supports the NHS in diagnosing fertility problems and, once the diagnosis is confirmed, managing treatment."

During this consultation period anyone with an interest in the guideline can make comments on the draft version via the Nice website at www.nice.org.uk.

Although Nice has not yet issued guidance to the NHS on how fertility treatment should be provided, final guidance is expected by February 2004.

Treatment will not be offered to those over 40 as the chances of success are reduced over this age. Also those under 23 will not be included unless there is a specific medical problem that means there is no chance of a pregnancy.

It is estimated that the NHS could be faced with a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds if demands for the guideline-recommended fertility treatment procedures are as high as anticipated.

(SP)

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