February 21, 2013

IconIVF on NHS for lesbians and over 40s

Lesbian couples and women up to 42 will be allowed IVF on the NHS in line with the latest review of guidelines.

Previously, only women up the age of 39 were allowed IVF on behalf of the NHS and lesbian couples were excluded completely.

Under the new guidelines of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), lesbian couples can gain access if they have diagnosed fertility problems and women aged 40 to 42 will be allowed one cycle of IVF as long as it is their first attempt.

The figures

This is a huge help to couples who would have had to go privately, spending in the regions of £20,000. With the cost of £3,500 a cycle and £350 a year for the preservation of eggs… not to mention the cost of drugs, tests and extra consultations. And there’s typically only a 20% success rate among 38 year olds.

Official figures show the number of lesbian couples undergoing IVF rose from 178 in 2007 to 417 in 2010. This treatment resulted in the birth of 358 babies to lesbian couples over the past three years while the same treatment for single women led to 660 births (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority).

Intro-uterine insemination

Interestingly, the new guidelines also call on health authorities in England and Wales to fund IUI, intro-uterine insemination using donor sperm for people in same  sex relationships. If the couple still struggles after 6 cycles of IUI, they will be considered for IVF.

In a day and age where IUI is available, it’s about time lesbian couples should be able to put down the soft cup and Pre-Seed and avail of more modern and sure-fire methods.

The legalities

The recommendations come after the Labour relaxations in 2008 law, putting same-sex parenting on an equal legal footing.

Following the implementation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, fertility clinics may no longer take into account the stereotypical need for a male role model. Lesbian couples now need only show they can provide “supportive parenting”.

This is an important move, and if an NHS Trust denies a lesbian couple fertility treatment – while caring for straight couples – they could face legal action.


Not everyone is happy about the new guidelines though, given the already overstretched nature of the NHS IVF system.

Each year the NHS carries out 25,000 cycles of IVF with a total cost of around £75 million. But a survey from 2011 revealed only a quarter of NHS Trusts provide all the amount they should. The new NHS guidelines will stretch these services still further.

Love makes a family

As Nice says, treatment is based on medical need, not on social circumstances.

Who’s to say that when resources are tight, straight and slightly younger couples should get preference over lesbian couples, or women just two years older?


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Sophie Cairns


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