Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, CREATE Fertility and abc ivf
As we start National Fertility Awareness Week, it is clear we need a radical rethink when it comes to UK family and fertility policies. Infertility affects one in seven heterosexual couples in the UK, and single women and same-sex couples require fertility assistance to start a family, yet despite the fact NICE recommends that all women under 40 should receive three cycles of publicly funded IVF only 12% of UK regions are able to meet this recommendation. This means that many women and couples struggling to conceive may not be able to access treatment or are forced to borrow funds in order to do so, which is unfair and only perpetuates social inequality.
However I do not believe that this funding should fall to the NHS, who are already facing pressures on their finances that have been further stretched by the events of the last 18 months. Instead, the cost of funding IVF treatment should be shared amongst the Government departments who actually stand to gain most from an increased birth rate.
The UK has long faced a declining birth rate and the Social Market Foundation recently warned that Britain’s baby shortage could lead to a “long-term economic stagnation” – a warning that I have been making for years. Children are essential to our economy, with research finding that a UK-born child’s lifetime economic value to be over £700,000 through tax and pension contributions. That figure that dwarfs the cost of funding IVF for those who need it (around £20,000).
The Departments of Women & Equalities, Work & Pensions and the Treasury, who all stand to benefit most from an increased birth rate, should work collaboratively to bear the cost of creating our future taxpayers. By fundamentally rethinking how we approach, budget for and fund IVF, we are not only ensuring everyone has the opportunity to become a parent, but also supporting the future economic success of the UK. Increasing access to fertility treatment also contributes to promoting much needed diversity in our society.
The UK Government also needs to assess how to better support people of all ages and family types to conceive – including heterosexual couples, single women and same-sex couples. This includes promoting fertility education in schools, introducing pro family initiatives, offering women better career protection post maternity leave, and also examining how we budget for and fund IVF treatment in the UK. For women who wish or need to freeze their eggs when they are younger, to preserve their fertility for the future, there is a critical need to make egg freezing more affordable and accessible so that women can freeze their eggs by their early thirties, in order to ensure the best quality eggs are preserved for the future.
Finally, we must work as a sector to reduce the cost of IVF and make it more affordable for patients. The price of IVF can be high due to the use of unproven treatment “add-ons” as well as the high doses of stimulation drugs used in some clinics. We have worked at abc ivf for over a decade to achieve an affordable IVF price of £2,750 by using simplified patient pathways, cutting out unnecessary costs and appointments, and eliminating unproven add on’s. it is entirely possible to make successful IVF more affordable, and the entire sector should be focused on trying to achieve this, if we are to deliver equality in fertility in the UK.