Women over 40 to receive IVF treatment in England & Wales

New guidelines from NHS say,

  • IVF should be offered after 2 years of failed attempts, not the current three
  • Upper age limit should rise from 39 to 42 in England and Wales.

Should women over 40 receive IVF treatment? Or have they left it too late? Have your say in the comments below.

The current age limit for NHS funded treatment 38 in Scotland and 39 in Northern Ireland, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The new guidelines for England & Wales state that women between 40 and 42 will be offered one cycle as long as it is their first time and they have enough eggs.

Previously the cut-off age has been 39. Those struggling to conceive have also been told the treatment should start earlier – after two years of trying to conceive naturally, rather than three.

Director of the Oxford Fertility Unit, Tim Child, said the decision to extend IVF past the age of 39 was not taken lightly.

“When a woman reaches her mid-30s her fertility begins to decline, even more so from her late 30s,” he said. “However, many women do conceive naturally in the 40-42 year age group, but for those who can’t, and who have been diagnosed with the medical condition of infertility, then improvement in IVF success rates over the last decade mean that we are now able to offer cost effective treatment with a single IVF cycle. This decision was taken after considerable discussion and close analysis of the available evidence.”

But leading fertility doctors and patient groups warned that with the new guidance people would still be denied the treatment because of the reluctance of many primary care trusts (PCTs) to pay for it.

[download id=”19″ format=”1″] in 2011, showed one in four NHS trusts offered the full three cycles. Each round costs £3,000.

Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, who was on the guidelines development group, said they would give new hope to infertility patients, but it would be “pointless if the recommendations are not put into practice”.

One in seven heterosexual couples are thought to experience fertility problems and the numbers seeking help have risen. There is evidence that spending cuts in an NHS tasked with saving £20bn by 2015 have affected fertility services, which already had long waiting lists.

Nice reiterates that couples where the woman is under 40 should have three attempts on the NHS and even suggests the treatment should start earlier – after two years of trying to conceive naturally, rather than three.

But it proposes ending practices which scientific evidence now suggests are ineffective, which could reduce some costs. Women in hetereosexual relationships should be encouraged to keep trying for a baby through sexual intercourse for the two years before they qualify for IVF, rather than be given artificial insemination, Nice says. Studies show insemination does not achieve better results.

Same-sex couples will still be offered artificial insemination as well as people who have a religious objection to IVF.

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