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'Level playing field' for IVF call
The health watchdog has called for an end to the postcode lottery of fertility treatments in England.
Last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) set out a list of treatments that should be available to those seeking help with conception on the NHS.
But it has emerged that many organisations are not providing all of these treatments - for instance it is recommended that infertile couples are offered three full cycles of IVF treatment, but figures have shown that many local health bodies are providing just one, or none at all.
So some couples will be forced to pay out thousands of pounds for treatment when others get it for free.
Now Nice has set out a new set of draft statements to help level the playing field so all patients have access to the same treatments.
The quality standards highlight key areas where improvements are most needed.
The organisation has set out 10 statements which health bodies are required to consider when they plan and deliver NHS services.
These include issues of access for patients and treatments available to them.
People should be referred to a fertility specialist after a year of unsuccessfully trying for a baby, or sooner if there is a known clinical cause, the standards say.
They also recommend that women under 40 who have been trying to conceive are offered three full cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and those aged 40 to 42 are offered one cycle.
The quality standards also say that people who are of a reproductive age who are preparing to have treatment for cancer should be offered to have their eggs or sperm frozen and preserved.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at Nice, said: "Infertility is a recognised medical condition that can affect people of any age and has a potentially devastating effect on people's lives. It can cause significant distress, depression and can possibly lead to the breakdown of relationships.
"Our updated guidance which published last year provides clear recommendations on the most clinically and cost effective way to treat people with fertility problems. Unfortunately, we know that not all areas are following our guidance to the letter. This creates variations in treatment within the NHS, which is disappointing and goes against the fundamental aims of the NHS.
"The quality standard that we are currently developing should help healthcare services to focus on the key areas of care that need to be addressed most urgently and ensure that the right support and treatment is available to those who need it."
The standards are now subject to public consultation. The final quality standard is expected to be published in October.