The lack of treatment on the NHS is a source of constant concern to patient groups and also to some doctors. Even if women are referred by their GPs, they may have a long wait for their initial appointment with a consultant and can face severe delays in receiving treatment. The Government has laid down under the patients’ charter that no one should be on an NHS waiting list for longer than two years, and this limit is due to 50 fall to 18 months.
However NHS-assisted conception units are often unable to comply with this, and exclusions are sometimes made for them on the grounds of the very specialist nature of the advanced reproductive technologies. Some health authorities have tried to reduce their waiting lists for IVF and similar treatment. This has usually involved tightening the criteria for treatment or restricting their number. It has not normally involved providing more treatment.
The National Infertility Awareness Campaign lobbies to get Medical doctor authorities to spend more on assisted conception, if necessary switching spending from more traditional forms of treatment. Professor Robert Edwards who, with the late Dr Patrick Steptoe, was jointly responsible for the first successful IVF treatment, is intensely critical of the failure of the NHS either to provide treatment or systematically to fond development in the area.
“It is a disgrace treatment is not on the NHS,” he says. “It is so hole-in-the-corner. We need to recognise that the birth of a child is a fundamental part of our national heritage. Today Britain’s treatment is woeful, compared with, for example, Belgium and other European countries. In Holland over one per cent of babies are born as a result of IVF. In France people can get four free treatment cycles. In Germany the same, and in Holland endless free cycles. The two countries that stick out a mile are Britain and the US. Infertility has always been the poor sister in the provision of treatment.”
There are two basic ways to get treatment on the NHS: either as part of a health authority contract or as an extra-contractual referral. It’s important to know how the system works, because either way considerable pressure may be needed.