The argument over postcode lottery treatment for IVF treatment is raging as more NHS trusts withdraw free fertility treatment due to government cuts.
Opponents argue treatment is a luxury, having children a ‘lifestyle choice’ and cash-strapped NHS bosses should only be spending money on drugs and treatment for life-threatening conditions.
But talk to any couple who has suffered the heartbreak and desperation of being unable to have a family and the picture is more complicated.
Clare-Marie Clarke, aged 38, and her husband Steve, 44, both police officers, were told they didn’t qualify for NHS-funded IVF because Steve already had two children from a previous marriage.
They were lucky enough to have two children but their happy little family has come at a cost – they spent £7,600 on IVF.
The couple underwent treatment at a private clinic – Care Fertility in Glen Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield – and were lucky enough to get pregnant first time around with Iris, now two.
They also had embryos left over for freezing from their first cycle and a year later, their son Eric was ‘defrosted’, implanted in Clare’s uterus and is now four months old.
Clare said: “We were stunned to find out that we didn’t qualify for IVF on the NHS, because Steve already had two children.
“This meant even though I had no children, we weren’t considered a ‘childless couple,’ so we couldn’t receive any IVF treatment on the NHS and we were automatically excluded.
“It seemed so ruthless. Steve’s two children are all grown up now and, in the beginning, I felt quite upset about the idea that because his first wife had children with him, it seemed I couldn’t.
“It felt like someone was saying that because a woman he married years ago had children, I couldn’t.
“I’d always wanted children. When I was younger, I was quite career-minded, but then I met the right person and just knew I was ready.
“Our first cycle of IVF cost £5,500. To have our second implantation with Eric cost another £1,800 as well as the £300 freezer storage.”
She added: “Steve had a vasectomy after having children with his ex-wife. When we got together and wanted a family, it was reversed but there was a complication which led to fertility problems.
“People are quite flippant about having a vasectomy, thinking ‘I’ll just get it reversed if I decide to have more children,’ but we’re proof it isn’t always that simple.”
Clare added: “We have friends who’ve spent £25,000 on fertility treatment and still don’t have a baby at the end of it all, it’s heartbreaking.
“We were stunned and grateful it worked on the first go.”
“There’s this attitude that having children is a lifestyle choice, a luxury, but any woman who has ever felt that yearning to carry a child knows it isn’t a luxury.
“While ever there is any kind of plastic surgery available on the NHS, because of any psychological implications that deem it necessary, I don’t believe that anyone should be told having children is a luxury the NHS shouldn’t be paying for.”
November 2 to 8 is National Infertility Awareness Week.
Clare readily admits it’s difficult to raise awareness because patients are too upset, stressed out and focused on having treatment to campaign.
She said: “The problem with any kind of fertility treatment, and the issues with the NHS IVF guidelines, is that anybody having fertility problems is not the best person to start tackling how things work within the NHS and bringing about change.
“You’re so aware, when you’re the one having fertility problems, of this small window of time you have to have a baby.
“It’s like somebody has set a ticking clock off and all your energy and focus goes into doing what you need to do for you, in order to have a baby.
“Now’s not the time for you to start campaigning and settling in for a big fight.
“Any success in bringing about change probably wouldn’t come in time to help you anyway, so you just focus on your own private fight.
“That’s why I think raising awareness is so important, we need people to fight for us, to help enforce change.”
This year campaigners are hoping to raise awareness about how infertility affects men, in particular.
Susan Seenan, chief executive of fertility charity Infertility Network UK, said: “A key message in National Fertility Awareness Week is that men matter too. “Men are half of the fertility equation – they experience the pain and grief of struggling to become parents too.
“However, the male perspective can be overlooked – nearly half of all men feel there is not enough support and information for men about fertility issues and we want to address this.”
See www.infertilitynetworkuk.com to find out more about Infertility Awareness Week and for help and support.
The week culminates with The Fertility Show in Olympia, London this weekend where Care Fertility will be exhibiting.