Women struggling to conceive will now only be entitled to one round of IVF under the NHS in Bedfordshire.
Cutbacks mean that from January the health budget for IVF is being slashed by half in a move that will have a ‘life changing’ effect on some couples hoping to start a family.
Previously women, aged between 23 and 39 who had three years of unexplained infertility, were entitled to three cycles of free treatment under the NHS but now only one cycle will be offered.
In the UK, around 20 to 25 per cent of IVF treatment cycles result in a birth and one round of private IVF costs around £5,000.
The policy change, under the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (BCGG), will reduce the annual IVF treatment budget from £799,000 to £397,000.
Bedford Borough Councillor Roger Rigby said: “For the small number of women who are helped to conceive this way it is life changing.
“It is deeply regrettable that the BCCG has mucked up its finances so badly that it is women needing IVF treatment along with all people accessing health services who will suffer.”
The decision follows a public consultation in 2014, which attracted 215 responses, with the majority favouring retaining NHS IVF treatment and supporting a proposed option that offered, following three years of unexplained infertility, two full cycles of IVF treatment for women aged 23 to 39 and one full cycle for those aged 40 to 42.
The BCGG also initially favoured this more generous option but financial pressures meant this was later scaled back to one full cycle of treatment for women aged 23 to 39
A BCGG report presented to Bedford Borough Council’s adult services and health overview and scrutiny committee said: “Our understanding of our financial position at the time meant that we believed we could extend access to IVF while remaining within budget. However, our financial position has considerably worsened since then. We are currently reporting that we are likely to end the financial year with a deficit of around £25 million and are in what is called ‘turnaround’ to bring CCG finances back on track. This will mean taking some difficult decisions and as a result, it is likely that any decision to extend access to IVF would have a detrimental effect on other services.”
A spokesman for BCGG said: “We recognise that IVF treatment is life changing for the small group of women who are helped to conceive in this way and are pleased that we have been able to maintain this service.
“As with all the health services we commission for the people of Bedfordshire, we took account of a range of factors when coming to our decision about the eligibility criteria for accessing IVF. These included clinical evidence for the effectiveness of IVF among different groups and the outcome of our public consultation exercise.
“We also considered the affordability of IVF treatment and the impact this expenditure might have on other vital health services for Bedfordshire patients.”