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100,000-name petition calls on UK PMs to end NHS fertility treatment 'lottery'

By Joe Gammie, Press Association

Campaigners will present a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for an end to the "postcode lottery" of NHS fertility treatment.

The Fertility Network is urging the Government to create a fairer system so that couples across the country can get equal access to IVF on the health service.

It said that infertility disease affects about one in six couples in the UK, yet many NHS services ration it unfairly.

The Fertility Network is presenting its 102,000-strong #Scream4IVF petition to Mrs May at Downing Street on Monday afternoon.

The charity and online magazine IVF babble launched the #Scream4IVF campaign, with partners Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness advertising agency, in September and within two months the online petition had gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

The Fertility Network's chief executive, Aileen Feeney, said this showed the public support behind ending the postcode lottery.

She added: "Gathering 100,000 signatures, in such a short space of time, demonstrates the overwhelming public support to end the unethical and unfair IVF postcode lottery and create an equitable system for access to NHS fertility services in the UK.

"These 100,000 signatures represent the screams of pain and frustration from not being able to have a child without medical help - and not having your screams heard."

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidance recommends women under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF and one cycle for some women aged 40-42.

But the Fertility Network said this is not mandatory and only about 13% of England's 195 clinical commissioning groups(CCGs) offered the three NHS-funded cycles.

It said Scotland offered the "gold-standard" of three cycles for women under 40 including access for couples with children from previous relationships, but this level of treatment was only offered to couples in three CCGs in England.

The charity said women in Wales were entitled to two and those in Northern Ireland were offered one partial cycle, both including access for couples with children from previous relationships.

It said nine out of 10 CCGs in England do not allow couples to access NHS IVF if one person has a child from a previous relationship while others set their own age limits, including men having to be under 55 or women older than 25.

The #Scream4IVF campaign has gathered cross-party support from politicians, including Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and Labour's Steve McCabe.

The Birmingham Selly Oak MP, whose Access to Fertility Services private members' bill will have its second reading at Westminster later this month, said he was thrilled the petition had received so much support.

He added: "Infertility is a medical condition and it is completely unfair that access to IVF treatment depends on where you live.

"We can't have a situation where local NHS groups are allowed to ignore Nice guidelines and ration treatment to save money.

"It is simply unfair and we wouldn't stand for it if we were talking about other medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said birth rates from IVF treatment in the UK have increased by more than 85% since 1991.

He added: "All decisions on IVF treatment should be made by doctors based on a patient's individual clinical needs and in line with Nice guidelines.

"While provision of NHS infertility treatment is decided by local clinical commissioning groups, we are clear that blanket restrictions on treatment are unacceptable."