In light of the ongoing cuts to NHS funded fertility treatment, RHG Clinical Director Luciano Nardo, has spoken exclusively to the Mail Online about how the NHS can try and best use this limited budget, whilst maximising the chances of success in situations where couples may only be allowed one Government funded cycle.
Dr Nardo suggests that PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening) should be routinely offered to all NHS patients undergoing IVF because it has been proven to increase pregnancy outcomes. PGS is a technique used during IVF treatment to screen embryos for any abnormalities in their genetic material (chromosomes).
Recent research has suggested that IVF success rates may be improved if embryos are first screened for chromosomal abnormalities and embryos with the correct number of chromosomes transferred back. Most abnormal embryos would either fail to implant in the womb or miscarry during pregnancy. If abnormalities are observed, a we can select a different embryo for transfer to the uterus which is more likely to result in a live birth.
You can read the Mail Online in full below.
NHS bosses making drastic cuts to IVF services have a ‘moral duty’ to offer patients free genetic testing instead
- NHS-funded IVF has been severely rationed across England in recent months
- But this is leaving many infertile couples at risk of never having kids, experts say
- A consultant gynaecologist is now urging CCGs to adopt genetic screening
- Dr Luciano Nardo believes it will help boost the chances of couples conceiving
NHS bosses making drastic cuts to IVF services have a ‘moral duty’ to offer patients free genetic testing instead, experts say.
Government-funded fertility treatment has been severely rationed in recent months as the health service is forced to plug a black hole in funding.
But its widespread decimation across England is leaving many infertile couples at risk of never having children.
The ongoing situation ignores infertility being a ‘disease’ which leaves many ‘devastated’, consultant gynaecologist Dr Luciano Nardo says.
He is urging CCGs to boost the chances of helping couples conceive by offering a treatment not routinely used in the NHS.
Adopting Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS) could even save the health service money in the long run by preventing unsuccessful attempts.
Regulated by the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority, it costs around £535 per embryo and allows scientists to check them for their number of chromosomes.
If it has the wrong number, a miscarriage is more likely to occur. These abnormalities are thought to account for half of all miscarriages.
If these are observed, a physician can select a different embryo for transfer to the uterus which is more likely to result in a live birth.
Dr Nardo, medical director at Cheshire’s Reproductive Health Group, said it may end up saving the NHS money in the long term by ensuring better IVF success rates.
He told MailOnline: ‘While I appreciate the NHS needs to balance its books, the cuts to IVF funding have been deep and extremely worrying.
‘Let’s not forget that infertility is recognised as a disease, and like any other disease, it can cause real physical and emotional harm to patients affected.
‘For many couples desperate to achieve their dream of having a child, their only hope is through IVF provided for free on the NHS.
‘But when CCGs cut the number of cycles available from two or three to just one, the odds of falling pregnant get longer and longer.’
He added: ‘What I want to see happen is for the NHS to say, “Right, we’ve got one shot at this – let’s do everything we can to make this solitary cycle work”.
‘And it’s my opinion that they can do this through PGS screening. It should be offered routinely to all NHS patients undergoing IVF because it has been proven to increase pregnancy outcomes.
‘The NHS have a moral duty to ensure that screening is available.’
In an attempt to plug a black hole in funding, many Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are limiting the number of free cycles available to patients.
The NHS rationing watchdog NICE recommends that women under 40 should be offered up to three cycles at no cost.
But because these guidelines are not mandatory, standards differ across the country as health boards can pick and choose what they fund.
Many are offering as little as one cycle to couples seeking children, while some have slashed their service entirely.
However, most women undergoing IVF do not conceive on their first attempt – only 30 per cent of these result in a live birth.
But with repeated attempts the odds of success increase – to 45 per cent of women who have two cycles and 54 per cent who have three cycles.
Around 50,000 couples undergo the procedure each year and as a result of the cuts many end up paying an average of £5,000 per IVF cycle in private clinics. Others give up on their dream of having a family.
Nearly 60 per cent of IVF treatments are paid for privately.
Catherine Hill, of Fertility Fairness, said NHS patients are extremely lucky if they can access three free cycles.
She added: ‘Access to three full cycles of IVF offers the patient the best possible chance of success of having a baby and that’s why it’s the nationally recommended treatment.
‘Denying them access to the nationally recommended treatment because of where they live is cruel, it’s unethical.
‘Facing fertility problems is hard enough, without being denied medical help because of where you live.’
Professor Adam Balen, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘Infertility, a condition which affects one in seven couples, can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, causing distress, depression, and the breakdown of relationships.
‘IVF treatment is cost-effective and should be available on the NHS.’