IVF costs and NHS availability - what you need to know
What is the cost of IVF treatment privately? And are you entitled to free cycles on the NHS? Our guide to IVF financing...
Of the many big questions you face as you prepare to undergo IVF treatment, one that crops up right at the start of the journey is: how much will IVF cost me and how am I going to pay for it?
Fortunately, if you live in the UK, you may be entitled to have it for free on the NHS. Unfortunately, that's not as straightforward as it sounds.
So, in this article, we'll explain:
- NHS IVF eligibility guidelines
- How many free cycles you can get in your area
- A rundown of private clinic IVF costs
- What you can do you think you should be getting an IVF cycle for free, but aren't...
The National Institute of Care and Excellence (NICE) recommends women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered 3 free cycles of IVF if:
- they've been trying to get pregnant for at least 2 years
- they've had 12 failed artificial insemination (AI) attempts.
The same conditions apply to women aged 40 – 42 - but they will only be offered ONE free cycle. In addition, they have to:
- be trying IVF for the first time
- show no evidence of a low ovarian reserve – meaning they’re low on eggs or have poor quality eggs.
However, the recommendations above are just NICE’s guidelines, and whether or not you will be offered free IVF cycles really depends on where in the UK you live.
There may also be other eligibility conditions to meet, such as:
- having no biological children
- your partner having no biological children
- being a non-smoker
- keeping your BMI within a certain range
- making significant lifestyle changes like eating healthily and cutting back on alcohol.
In England, what is available to you is completely dependent on your location – as the decisions to fund these treatments are made by local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), formerly known as PCT (Primary Care Trusts).
Some areas will offer the full 3 cycles, others may offer one, or even none. This is known as the IVF postcode lottery – and has been widely criticised for just how unfair it can be.
The IVF postcode lottery is never far from headlines. In August 2017, Fertility Network UK revealed there are 13 areas in England restricting or halting IVF access on the NHS.
As many as 8 other areas were considering the same, as a cost-cutting measure, according to The Independent.
Indeed, this was confirmed by the Victoria Derbyshire programme on the BBC. In October 2018, they learned that 12 areas of England were saying no to women over 34 having any IVF on the NHS, and yes to only one cycle for women younger than 34.
They also learned that 7 CCGs in England have stopped offering IVF on the NHS altogether, and 85 CCGs have cut IVF for women over 39.
In addition to the lottery, you’re also generally expected by CCGs to have a BMI under 30 and to be a non-smoker as part of the eligibility criteria.
If either partner has biological children, you’re very unlikely to be offered IVF by some CCGs. Again, some CCGs won’t provide free treatment for women over 35, either.
The best thing you can do, however, is make sure you know the score in YOUR area.
You can find out more information about your specific group and what you're entitled to in your area by visiting the Fertility Network UK website.
It’s different elsewhere in the UK, though - and it all depends on meeting the individual eligibility criteria:
- In Scotland, you will be offered up to 3 free cycles
- In Wales, you will be offered 2 full free cycles of IVF treatment
- In Northern Ireland, you can be offered one fresh and one frozen embryo cycle.
What do I do if I am not entitled to any free IVF cycles on the NHS?
If you are not eligible for free IVF through the NHS, you may be offered other fertility treatment, or you may have to pay for a private clinic.
One 38-year-old woman named Charlotte, who was not entitled to any IVF by her local CCG (Southampton), told the BBC she was considering moving to a different area in order to get treatment.
"I would have liked to have known [about the age limit] when I was younger," she shared. "It would have enabled us to make a decision earlier about selling the house, and given us another year on what is already a timed situation."
(We're not suggesting anyone do anything as drastic as move house - especially not on a whim - as who knows how CCG decisions could change in that time?)
Here's some more info on costs, if you do end up going down the private clinic route...
It’s hard to say exactly how much IVF will cost if you’ve decided to – or have no choice but to – go private.
Your individual situation is what makes it so difficult to say, as not every couple will follow the exact same path to parenthood as you.
However, it’s widely known that one cycle can cost upwards of £5,000. Bare minimum example costs, provided by the Director of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, Dr Geetha Venkat, are as follows:
- Consultations, tests, drugs (£1,000)
- IVF treatment itself (£3,500)
If you’re looking for an exact figure, you’re best off contacting a fertility clinic and speaking to them about your specific circumstances, as extra treatments, freezing your eggs/embryos, etc, will likely cost more.
Sometimes, treatments can cost around £10,000 or more in total.
Will paying for extra treatments during IVF definitely improve my chances of getting pregnant?
If you do end up going private, you should be aware that the more tests and procedures you have, the more you'll be spending.
That's why it's SO important that you make sure you find a clinic you can trust, one that will be up front with you about extra costs and success rates.
It doesn't hurt to do your own homework on the procedures you've been recommended.
We bring this up because, very recently, a large-scale Australian study found that a £350 add-on procedure offered by many IVF clinics doesn't actually increase your chances of having a successful pregnancy.
The treatment, endometrial scratches, can be rather painful, too. They basically involve your womb's tissue lining being grazed, in hope that the inflammation helps your embryo to implant.
Now, a study of over 1000 women has shown that there's no real benefit to it at all. Says OBGYN profession and senior researcher Cindy Farquhar:
“I think it is unreasonable for clinics to ask for patients to pay for something when there is now clear evidence that there is no added benefit.
“I would hope that it will disappear from the list of add-ons that many clinics have both in the UK and in New Zealand and Australia.”
(We should add that previous research has suggested there might be some small benefit to having an endometrial scratch, but also that these new findings are actually the most recent, the least biased and the most in-depth to date.)
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Of course, we're not suggesting that every add-on procedure you might want to try is completely baseless and you should steer clear. Far from it.
Instead, we're suggesting that when you do discuss your treatment plan, you go in with your eyes wide open, armed with knowledge.
The good news is: in October 2018, it's expected that HFEA will require fertility clinics to be upfront with patients about success rates and proof it works, when suggesting expensive add-on procedures going forward.
Sadly, some people will find themselves in a situation where they've been denied access to IVF treatment on the NHS.
One MFMer in the same boat took to our forum to share her plan to appeal the decision – and boy, was it detailed!
Here are just some of the routes she’s gone down:
- Wrote to the head of her CCG (formerly known as a PCT) explaining her situation, asking for the cycle they are recommended for under NICE guidelines, and for any refusal of treatment to be officially confirmed in writing
- Wrote to her MP about the unfairness of the IVF postcode lottery
- Teamed up with a local advocacy service to assist in her claim.
There’s no guarantee of success if you choose to make a complaint, but if you feel it’s something you want to do, the NHS website actually provides more information on how to make an official complaint about their services.
There may be a time frame in which you need to make your complaint, and the website also makes clear the external services available to you, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. You may also want to contact the charity Fertility Network UK.
You should make sure to check your local CCG’s official website, too, for details on their specific complaints procedure.
It’s a heart-breaking situation to be in – and we hope no one else needs to make these complaints. But we also hope that on the off-chance you do, this info comes in handy ?
Are there any other options to help me pay for IVF?
Short of raising the money for private treatment, and appealing to the NHS to allow you to have a free cycle, there isn’t a great deal you can do.
We wouldn’t outright recommend this as a viable plan - but some couples do choose to try and crowdfund donations so they can afford treatment.
Worrying about money for IVF is stressing me out - what should I do?
However you get IVF, whether it's on the NHS or via a private facility, it can be a deeply emotional, uber-stressy and quite frankly, exhausting time.
If you've started the process already, your body will be going through big hormonal shifts, don't forget. But that can feel like small change compared to everything else, including concerns about your finances.
We'd advise you take advantage of counselling services that should be made available to you whatever route you've gone down - they're there for a reason, and should be able to offer support.
They may be able to point you in the direction of a financial planner, as they often offer free advice sessions.
Talk to your partner, family, friends. You can also bare your soul to women going through the same things you are on the MadeForMums IVF forum.
But whatever you do, don't keep any worries or stresses bottled up ?
Learn more about IVF:
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