Many would-be parents are moving house in order to access free IVF on the
Dr Raj Mathur, a consultant gynaecologist at
Mathur, whose clinic accepts NHS patients from 23 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across the north-west of England, said the geographical differences in funding were discriminatory.
“It’s a bloody nightmare, localism in the NHS. I’m all for centralisation. It’s a scandal because it should really be decided by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence [Nice] … They came up with national guidelines but everywhere in the country has its own version of those criteria,” he said.
“Some CCGs will specify that both should be childless; others will specify that there should be no children in that relationship … In my clinic Mrs
Some borders between
Mathur said people constantly move house to register with a GP in another CCG: “You set up a game and people will play the game.”
Greg Horne, a consultant embryologist at Saint Mary’s, agreed: “It’s like if you try to find a house in the catchment area of a particular school.”
The average market price for a single cycle of IVF in a private clinic is £3,348,
“It’s discriminatory. It’s a classic example of a postcode lottery, it goes against evidence-based guidelines,” said Mathur, who is also secretary of the British Fertility Society.
Provision is being reduced as a cost-cutting measure in some areas and has been cut altogether in others. Mathur’s patients in most parts of Cheshire used to have three IVF cycles funded but
Saint Mary’s, which was the first hospital in the UK to offer an NHS IVF service, is home to the UK’s biggest sperm bank. Working in partnership with a private American company, Fairfax Cyrobank, sperm from 100 American donors is held in a depot in Manchester.
The sperm is frozen in liquid nitrogen and flown over in “dry shippers”, which look like metal milk churns. It is then inserted directly into a woman’s uterus via a small catheter through the cervix – a process known as Intrauterine Insemination, IUI, which has a one-in-10 success rate – or is used for IVF where a woman’s egg is fertilised in a laboratory and is then returned to her womb as an embryo.
Like most fertility clinics, Saint Mary’s has faced
In recent years, the hospital had just three regular donors on its books, all of whom were white. This was a problem as 20-25% of the hospital’s fertility patients are British Asians.
In 30 years working at the clinic, Horne said he could recall just one Asian donor. Ten of Fairfax’s current US donors are of Asian heritage and all have accepted that their donor children may contact them in adulthood.
Faye Penny is the donor coordinator at Saint Mary’s, and sits down with each patient to look through Fairfax’s online catalogue. They can search by detailed criteria including physical characteristics, personality, baby photos and can even hear his voice. “Most straight couples don’t want to see the photos,” said Penny. “Often all they want to know is the hair and eye colour and the ethnicity.”
Donor 4848 is 175cm tall and 90kg and is of Indian origin. His favourite animal is a hamster, he is Muslim, likes going to the theatre and reading.
Donor 5319 is described as: “Shy at first, he is insightful with a warm heart and caring spirit. He loves spending time around children and seeing the potential of the world’s future first-hand ... Our staff consider him attractive, with a handsome face and a tall, athletic build.”
Penny believes that being able to offer patients a choice of donor without making them wait is important. “Previously, you didn’t know the donor was going to be available the next time someone came in, because they can only make 10 families.”