An urgent review has been launched into south east London’s IVF eligibility rules, after it emerged single women and couples who weren’t living together were being refused on the grounds they would ‘disadvantage’ the child.
The policy, which covers Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Bromley and Bexley, refuses treatment to single women – such as those using sperm donors – or women who do not live with their partners.
The document states: “Because of the known disadvantage that providing assisted conception to a single woman would cause both the child and the mother, funding of assisted conception for single women is not available in SE London”, while “couples should be living together and in a stable relationship”.
The decision was decried by Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman, who chairs Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.
She described it is discriminatory and wrote to Matt Hancock MP, secretary of state for health and social care, urging him to intervene.
Harman highlighted the cost of private treatment and the “terrible message” the policy sent to single parents and their children: “It is nothing less than offensive to both single mothers and to the children of single mothers to assert that they exert less control on their children and that their children are a burden on society.”
Southwark CCG has apologised for the policy’s wording, and committed to a ‘rapid review’ of its IVF policy for single women.
A spokesperson for NHS Southwark CCG told the News: “Infertility is a condition that requires investigation, management and treatment in accordance with national guidance.
“As part of the provision of prevention, treatment and care, south east London commissioners are committed to ensuring that access to NHS fertility services is provided fairly and consistently within the limited resources we have available.
“South east London CCGs follow the criteria for IVF treatment set out in the South East London Treatment Access Policy (TAP) and at present, routine funding of assisted conception for single women is not available.
“All women have access to routine gynaecology services for investigation and management of fertility problems. The treatment access policy only applies to assisted conception.
“We are sorry for any offence that has been caused by the wording in the treatment access policy and the review document referenced in the section on single women’s access to IVF.
“We review and update the treatment access policy on a regular basis and we will prioritise a rapid review of the policy in relation to single women.”
The policy highlights difficulties for would-be parents across the country in accessing the treatment, which can be prohibitively expensive when given privately.
Although NICE guidelines state that women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF if they have not got pregnant after two years of trying, or tests show there is no chance of conceiving naturally, what treatment is available varies across regions and even London Boroughs.
Just a few miles away In Croydon, for example, IVF is not available at all on the NHS. The cost of going private can be up to £5,000 or more per cycle.
A petition to Parliament demanding the end of the IVF postcode lottery, and equality of treatment, has nearly 5,000 signatures, but needs double that to gain a government response.