The IVF postcode lottery is a national inequality that you may have heard me speak about on more than one occasion. Depending on when you started following my blog, you may remember my blog post on the postcode lottery following the demise of IVF on the NHS in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. No matter how you have ended up here, you’ll know that I have been personally impacted by the IVF postcode lottery.
This year, in light of Fertility Week 2020, I have – with the help of my good friend, Hayley – launched the #FightForIVF campaign. 10 days ago I launched a petition; a petition that has since hit 10,000 signatures, has seen me subject to interviews from both Sky News and the BBC, has grown an Instagram following and has been the forefront of a fight I absolutely intend on fighting until the end.
In England, your eligibility to IVF treatment varies depending on a range of different factors; your age, your BMI, whether your partner has any children from previous relationships, to name a few. However, more than anything, your eligibility to IVF is dependant heavily on your postcode. The NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) issued guidance that recommends all women under the age of 40 who have been trying to conceive for two years should receive 3 full cycles of NHS funded IVF. Further to this, it is diagnosed by the World Health Organisation as a disease of the reproductive system. Despite this, it is up to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to decide how much of this guidance they choose to follow. At present, less than 20% of CCG’s follow the guidelines. Depending on your postcode, you could be entitled to anything between 1-3 rounds of IVF, but if you live in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Basildon & Brentwood, or Mid Essex, you would be entitled to nothing at all. This has resulting in the coining of the term “the IVF postcode lottery”, and is the exact thing that we are campaigning about.
Research has shown previously that the lack of fertility services in England does in fact cause psychological harm for many of the people who are affected (WHO, 2016). Infertility itself causes symptoms of depression in 90% of people who suffer, as well as leaving 42% of fertility patients with thoughts of suicide (Fertility Network). I have, for a long time, been very open about the impact infertility has had on my mental health, how between September 2018 and March 2019, I reached a crisis point and couldn’t see the point in being alive. The dark cloud that loomed over me for those 6 months was a cloud I wish nobody ever had to experience; it was nothing but a fog, and getting out of bed every day was nothing but a chore. I was grieving for a child I couldn’t have. It took me 14 months to be seen by a professional through the NHS. 14 months to receive therapy for what was diagnosed as PTSD. I have a friend who I met through the wild journey of IVF who – under the same service – was offered no help at all when she asked for help. Instead, she was posted leaflets for external agencies who could provide support. So, when CCG’s such as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough suggest that the lack of IVF provisions have “no significant impact on mental health services”, I beg to differ. I argue that quite simply, the reason the mental health provisions remain significantly untouched is for no reason other than the provisions are frankly not offered at all.
It is unacceptable that your postcode determines your eligibility, and even more so that 3 CCG’s offer no cycles at all. Couples in those 3 areas pay their national insurance the same as everybody else in receipt of treatment, and those who receive 1 or 2 NHS funded cycles pay the same as those who receive 3. The system is broken. It cannot be justified that couples in Basildon, for example, are entitled to no IVF treatment, whilst in County Durham they are entitled to 3 – as per the NICE guidelines. It is unjust, unfair and unethical.
What has been coined as the IVF postcode lottery contradicts certain values of the NHS Constitution – compassion, improving lives and everyone counts. It is in contrast of the key principles of our National Health Service – that access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay. NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by Parliament. Unfortunately, for 1 in 7 couples in England who have found themselves suffering with infertility, this does not count for them, for no reason other than where they have chosen to live.
This is why we have launched the Fight for IVF campaign. This is why I am leading this fight and why I will be fighting every round, until the point of knockout. This is why I am determined to take this as far as I need to go, for as long as I need to, to make a change for us all.
I cannot do it by myself.
I have had the help from my good friend, Hayley. I have had the help from women all over the country who have contributed to projects that will be going live on mine and the campaign’s Instagram accounts over the next week. I have had almost 10,000 signatures on our petition.
But it can’t stop there.
We need to keep the conversation going. We need to keep the conversation alive. We need to keep fighting.
Ordinary people can make a change… and I will keep fighting the fight until I cannot anymore.
Join me in the #FightForIVF
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