OPINION: Time to end the IVF postcode lottery

by Meg Murray Jones | Postpartum Plan
Monday, 6 November 2023 11:21 GMT

A medical technician selects eggs for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) at the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology CECOS of Tenon Hospital in Paris, France, September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Access to IVF needs to more widely available, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity

Meg Murray Jones is founder of Postpartum Plan, an online membership platform for new parents

It is evident to me that there is a massive discrepancy in understanding pregnancy and birth and how that can encompass so many different situations.

We need to understand that we are not just talking about heterosexual women.

This is not the case and the lack of understanding around all types of pregnancy and birth can cause more emotional and physical trauma than previously thought. For example, recent research has uncovered another huge discrepancy: IVF support across the country depends not just on your postcode but also on your sexual orientation.

First, south-east Sussex is the region offering the best IVF support to heterosexual couples, which includes three cycles and a maximum of five years of egg freezing, up to the age of 40.

You are also more likely to be fast-tracked here, with the least amount of already funded NHS cycles. Regardless of your postcode, for heterosexual couples, many areas guarantee eligibility for NHS-funded support with no previous NHS cycles.

For same-sex couples, NHS-funded programmes require six-12 self-funded artificial insemination cycles before being considered for any fertility support. This means that female same-sex couples could pay up to £25,000 before accessing support on the NHS.

With fertility dropping (sperm count has halved in the past 40 years) NHS IVF funding declining by 16% nationally in the past three years, in correlation with a declining birth rate, and more people opting to go down the privatised healthcare route to debunk long waiting times and other restrictions, there needs to be a shift in the way we look at fertility as part of our overall health and wellbeing.

For so long, fertility has been medicalised and stripped of all emotion and personalisation. We know the emotional and physical turmoil that all parents endure when going through IVF.

This trauma has a huge impact not just on the pregnancy but postpartum too. Feelings of relief but also guilt and shame about the process are commonplace. Some of our members have not told their families about the process, and others have struggled financially for years afterwards.

So, how can we resolve these issues?

First, there needs to be more education about supporting fertility in men and women. Understanding that our nutrition, stress levels, and environmental factors all play a part in our fertility can help us prepare for the future.

Second, we need to see fertility support as a holistic pathway that includes discussions around mental and financial health.

Third, we need to abolish the postcode lottery and allow all areas to create equal support for all parents, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This will allow for a happier and smoother journey that will inevitably support everyone's IVF journey.

Finally, IVF support does not end with a successful pregnancy.

Mental health support may be required during pregnancy and postpartum as there is a greater risk of PND and postnatal anxiety if there has been a difficult experience in pregnancy.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it actually just involves more communication between counties and with those going through IVF themselves.

We believe that no one should parent alone, and if we can create a community around a new parent, we help them to thrive, not just survive, in parenthood and beyond.

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