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Will the NHS pay for my IVF?

The good news is, the NHS can fund 1 or 3 cycles of IVF, criteria dependent. The bad news is, 6 out of 10 IVF cycles in the UK are funded privately (1) and usage of the NHS for 1st cycles has been declining over time (2). Why is that?

Well, NHS waiting times can vary from area to area depending on the level of service (which is pretty much random) and can take months to years. Also, IVF treatment in the NHS is not well funded, where there are limited resources. Most critically, the criteria are strict and hospitals can impose their own criteria, and these are often hard to fill. Understandably, this leaves many individuals hopeless, especially those that can’t afford private treatments.  In this short article we will be discussing what the criteria may be, and a few tips on how to fulfill them. 

NHS IVF criteria:

If you are under 40 years of age*, you may qualify for 3 cycles of IVF by the NHS if (3):

        1.     You’ve been trying to get pregnant for 2 years through regular unprotected sex
              1.  This means, no use of any devices, contraceptive pills, or condoms during sex.
        2. Unable to get pregnant with 12 cycles of artificial insemination
              1. Artificial insemination is when sperm is put into your womb directly. It has its own criteria – more information can be found at Intrauterine insemination (IUI) – NHS.

*Bear in mind, that if you turn 40 during a cycle, they will finish that cycle but no other cycle will be offered. E.g., if you are on your 2nd cycle of IVF, it will be completed, but a 3rd one will no longer be offered.

If you are between the ages 40-42, you may qualify for 1 cycle of IVF by the NHS if (3):

You fulfil the 2 criteria given for under ‘40s + 

        1. You’ve never had IVF treatment before
        2. Tests show that you have enough good quality eggs in your ovaries 
        3. You are aware of the potential outcomes of IVF and pregnancy at this current age

 

The caveat for both criteria is; IF the only way you will be able to get pregnant is through IVF for example if you have damaged fallopian tubes, damaged ovaries or other gynaecological disease  – you may be referred for IVF straight away – bypassing the criteria. 

What additional criteria may hospitals require?

Non-modifiable criteria:

        1. Not having children from current or previous partner/s (3)
        2. Age range may be limited e.g., some hospitals only fund women <35 (3)
        3. No previous IVF treatment privately 

 

Modifiable criteria:

1. Healthy weight (4)

Women with a BMI of 35 may be asked to lose weight before receiving treatment. It will also take longer for you to get pregnant, as losing weight takes time and stress can alter your hormones.

Therefore, check your BMI using your height and weight in the calculator – BMI Calculator. If it’s above 35, try to lose weight before referral to IVF to save you time, and increase your chances of successful treatment. Losing weight can restore hormonal balance in your body, boosting your fertility. (5)

2. No Smoking  (3)

It is reasonable for certain hospitals to ask you to stop smoking. Smoking reduces your fertility, making it harder for the egg to implant successfully in your womb. (6) Besides this, during pregnancy, the toxins can harm the baby – such as being born early and stillbirth. (7)

So, seek support from your GP, friends and firmly to try and stop smoking. It has long-term benefits beyond fertility. 

3. Signed up with a GP in the area 

If you’re seeking IVF treatment outside of the area you live in, make sure to sign up to a local GP – as some hospitals may require this.  

Although these criteria are in place to ensure hospitals are filtering and allocating their (limited) resources effectively, some of the criteria are also there to optimise your chances of falling pregnant. Try not to be put off by the following criteria. As mentioned before, it varies in different areas, and if you’re trying to get pregnant, remember you don’t deserve it any less than anyone else. Keep trying, you’ve got this!

References:

        1. Howard S. The hidden costs of infertility treatment. BMJ [Internet]. 2018 May 22 [cited 2019 Dec 2];k2204. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2204.full
        2. Fertility treatment 2018: trends and figures | Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority [Internet]. www.hfea.gov.uk. [cited 2022 Jan 20]. Available from: https://www.hfea.gov.uk/about-us/publications/research-and-data/fertility-treatment-2018-trends-and-figures/#funding
        3. NHS Choices. Availability – IVF [Internet]. NHS. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ivf/availability/
        4. Infertility [Internet]. rms.kernowccg.nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Jan 20]. Available from: https://rms.kernowccg.nhs.uk/rms/primary_care_clinical_referral_criteria/primary_care_clinical_referral_criteria/gynae/infertility
        5. Ozcan Dag Z, Dilbaz B. Impact of obesity on infertility in women. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association [Internet]. 2015 Jun 4;16(2):111–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4456969/
        6. Heger A, Sator M, Walch K, Pietrowski D. Smoking Decreases Endometrial Thickness in IVF/ICSI Patients. Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde. 2018 Jan;78(01):78–82.
        7. McDonnell BP, Regan C. Smoking in pregnancy: Pathophysiology of Harm and Current Evidence for Monitoring and Cessation. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist [Internet]. 2019 Jul;21(3):169–75. Available from: https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/tog.12585

 

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