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West Kent, Medway, Swale and Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley CCGs issue latest on IVF discussions

Discussions to halve the number of funded IVF cycles for couples in north and west Kent have been put on hold.

Last year four groups in Kent and Medway begun discussions about only providing one cycle per couple in a bid to save cash.

But at a recent meeting of Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley CCG, it emerged the group, plus West Kent, Medway and Swale would continue providing two rounds of the treatment. But they haven't ruled out the issue of cutting these resources being revisited in the future.

IVF treatment has been discussed by CCGs. Stock image
IVF treatment has been discussed by CCGs. Stock image

A cycle is where one or two embryos are placed into the womb, with any remaining good-quality ones frozen for use later.

When these frozen embryos are used, this is still considered to be part of the same cycle.

In addition, all health bodies in Kent have also agreed to fund services using donated eggs and sperm, known as assisted reproductive therapy. Currently these are not funded for any patient groups.

This will allow lesbian and heterosexual couples and single women, who are unable to use their own genetic materials, access to IVF.

Board papers revealed a fear commissioning groups could face claims this policy was discriminating against certain couples, opening the way to legal challenges.

However, the meeting minutes detail male same-sex partners are not eligible because of legal issues surrounding the use of surrogates.

New contracts now need to be signed for hospitals and centres which provide assisted reproductive therapy.

IVF cycles have been discussed. Stock image
IVF cycles have been discussed. Stock image

At the moment the current success rate of IVF ranges from 2% to 29% depending on a woman's age.

Certain medical tests need to be carried out to determine whether people are suitable to receive NHS-funded treatment. If not it can cost upwards of £5,000 each time.

Recently a couple from Maidstone got pregnant on their first round of IVF after a five year fertility battle.

Before making the decision, some of the CCGs asked the public for their opinion about fertility services and while most understood the need to cut costs, the majority did not agree with cutting the number of cycles available.

Out of 369 people answering a survey 62% disagreed with cutting IVF cycles from two to one. Respondents were also asked a range of questions about general statements such as reviewing NHS services for value for money.

West Kent CCG noted the response to potential cuts matched what people said in several public consultation events.

In December 2018, consultation sessions were held in Maidstone and Sevenoaks about the possibility, with Dr Bob Bowes, chairman of the West Kent CCG saying: “We’ve got a really good system in the NHS, it could do with more money but it could also do with being improved, and sometimes improved efficiency can deliver savings.

Stuart Jeffery. Copyright Medway CCG
Stuart Jeffery. Copyright Medway CCG

“This question about whether IVF cycles should be limited is one of those types of questions.

“If the whole population of west Kent said ‘you can’t do that’, we wouldn’t do it."

Regulatory body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), recommends women under 40 should receive three cycles on the NHS, however more than 60% of CCGs across England already offer just one cycle.

Deputy managing director at Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, which are taking the lead on the plans, Stuart Jeffery said: “The four CCGs across Medway; Swale; Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley and west Kent are currently in the process of reviewing their policies on IVF funding.

"Although the CCGs are not currently reducing cycles, this may change if all of the CCGs decide to go out to consultation.

“Some of the CCGs have already been through a pre-consultation engagement on the possible reduction and found that those who responded mostly disagreed.”

Talks around merging all the CCGs in Kent are to start and any decision on this is unlikely before April. It is thought proposals to reduce IVF cycles could be revisited following the merger.

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