Bristol IVF Centre will be closing in November due to budget cuts.
Couples seeking IVF treatment to have a baby will have to travel to Cardiff when NHS bosses in Bristol close the clinic.
North Bristol NHS Trust has told couples it has “decided to discontinue the provision” at Southmead Hospital, and the clinic will close at the end of November.
The decision has been taken by NHS bosses because individual local GPs groups that pay for the service have cut back on who is eligible for in vitro fertilisation treatment on the NHS, and how many ‘cycles’ they are eligible for.
That has meant the number of people receiving IVF treatment at Southmead Hospital on the NHS has dwindled over the past couple of years, and now the majority of the people treated there are actually paying thousands of pounds from their own pockets.
NHS bosses in North Bristol said that does not fit with the ethos of the NHS – and their resources would be better put into other much-needed NHS services.
It will mean there will be nowhere in the city, where the world’s first IVF conceived baby Louise Brown lives, that will carry out the treatment.
All those having fertility treatment will be able to continue their current cycle, but it is understood that no new patients will be taken on.
There is no other place to undergo IVF processes either privately or through the NHS in Bristol, which means that couples struggling to conceive may be sent to Cardiff and neighbouring hospital trusts to have the procedure carried out.
The news has prompted a backlash from people who have used the service both privately and through the NHS including pregnant Sarah O’Mahony.
She said: “There is no other physical or mental illness I know of which affects you as much as the pain of being infertile.
“This decision will leave couples devastated.”
North Bristol NHS Trust currently runs a number of fertility services from Southmead Hospital including fertility assessment, investigations and surgery.
The letter states that these services will still continue, but the actual process of IVF – the removal of a woman’s egg cells for fertilisation and the reinsertion of the fertilised egg in to the woman’s womb – will no longer be available.
The Trust told patients: “Following a review last year, the Trust has decided to discontinue the provision of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) licensed fertility services such as IVF from the end of November 2017.
“This decision has been made in order to focus on providing acute NHS services.
“Patients currently having treatment or in treatment planning at BCRM will be able to complete their cycles and gametes and embryos currently in storage at the centre will continue to be stored by a licensed regulated provider.”
The letter suggests that the decision has been taken because “there has been a reduction in the number of NHS patients receiving IVF”.
However, Ms O’Mahony said this is likely because of stricter rules on the age and circumstances of women eligible to undergo IVF on the NHS.
The closure of the service will also affect women who plan to privately fund IVF treatment as both the private and NHS procedures were carried out at Southmead hospital.
Ms O’Mahony has spent £40,000 on privately funding five cycles of IVF treatment and is now five months pregnant with her first child.
The 42-year-old said: “Because I was over 40 I was not permitted to undergo IVF on the NHS, but I still used the same facility for all five of my cycles.
“If I had heard this news last year I would have been devastated, heartbroken, and I can imagine that is how lots of couples will feel.”
Ms O’Mahony – who started her first cycle in 2015 – said even adding a little extra time on to hospital and clinic journeys will affect women undergoing treatment.
She said: “When you start off they essentially give you medication to induce the menopause and that leaves you feeling tired and drained and awful.
“I know going to say Cardiff isn’t that much further in distance, but when you are feeling that unwell it is a huge thing.
“And it isn’t like you are popping over for a check-up, if you are having a procedure you may have to stay overnight and if they need to see you it might not be possible to get over quickly – there are lots of reasons why I think it is a bad idea.”
Ms O’Mahony is looking forward to giving birth in October, but has said it might make her and other women think twice about going in for IVF.
“There are a lot of misconceptions around IVF,” she said.
“People say ‘why should we be paying for you to have a baby’ – but infertility is physically debilitating.
“I personally think that it would be more cost effective to keep the clinic open because it must surely cost more to the Trust to treat women depression and health problems associated with them not being able to have children.”
Would-be parents come from all over the Bristol area and further afield – with Clinical Commissioning Groups, the NHS organisations run on a county or area basis by GPs – sending couples to Southmead from as far away as Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire.
It will be up to those CCGs and not North Bristol NHS Trust where those couples are sent instead from November, but the nearest alternative is in Cardiff or Birmingham for both NHS-funded couples or people paying for it themselves.
A joint statement from North Bristol NHS Trust and Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG said: “Licensed fertility services for NHS and self-funded patients will continue to be provided by North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) until the end of November and plans are in development to ensure that the transfer of care to a new provider or providers, happens as smoothly as possible.
“Local CCGs are committed to the ongoing provision of licensed fertility services for NHS patients and have begun the process of recommissioning a provider to take over from the Trust.
“Services will be commissioned on the same basis as before and patients will be able to access the same range of licensed treatments, including IVF. The new NHS provider will be confirmed in the autumn.
“Patients are being notified of developments and further information is available on the CCG’s websites and the website of the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine.”