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The Great North-south Fertility Divide

Ahead of Professor Charles Kingsland’s seminar at the first ever The Fertility Show, Manchester, the eminent fertility expert explores the provision of fertility for people in the North and gives his top tips for people seeking treatment options.

The North West has traditionally been seen as a stronghold for fertility treatment on the NHS, with patients benefiting from the outstanding facilities provided by teaching hospitals such as Liverpool Women’s Hospital.  In fact, Greater Manchester is the best place to live in England for NHS fertility treatment, according to a national audit date from campaign group Fertility Fairness1.

Only four out of 209 (1.9 per cent) clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the country follow national guidance on access to NHS fertility treatment fully and offer access to three funded cycles of IVF for eligible women under 40, plus all viable frozen embryo transfers, and enable access if one partner has a child from a previous relationship. All these CCGs are in the Greater Manchester area: Bury CCG, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale CCG, Tameside and Glossop CCG and Oldham CCG – where the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

So, the provision in both the NHS and private sectors in the region is good, with a rise in recent years of dedicated fertility clinics, run by some of the world’s leading experts and offering the latest technologies and outstanding facilities.  Whilst we should be celebrating this access to fertility services in the region, the statistics do reveal a striking North-South divide between the levels of provision of NHS fertility treatment. And, along with the vast majority of the fertility community, I do firmly believe that we need to work together to eliminate a postcode lottery and ensure fair and equitable access to fertility treatment across England.

And, despite the good provision in the North, there is certainly room for greater education about and understanding of fertility to ensure that people are aware of all the options available to them.  So, here are my three top tips for people in the region looking for fertility treatment:

  1. Look beyond location: because the provision in the North of England is generally very good, there is a tendency for patients to choose the clinic closest to them (I estimate that 80% of patients plump for the hospital closet to them!). Whilst location and convenience of travelling to appointments is important, every patient’s needs are individual and so people should also consider other factors such as range of treatments, holistic approach, costs, conception rates, nursing support etc.  HFEA has a new tool on its website to help people to identify the right clinic for them;
  2. Question the costs:  I would urge everyone undergoing fertility treatment to ask their doctor to explain exactly what they are paying for, what each element of treatment means, why they need it and whether it will increase the chances of conception.  Precision medicine is certainly the future of fertility, but while you should be able to access individualised therapy, that shouldn’t necessarily mean expensive therapy.
  3. Stay positive: medically in the UK, there has never been a better time – or place – for people to conceive through IVF.  The UK has been one of the world’s leading pioneers of fertility treatments since the 70s. And now, patients are also benefiting from the rapid advances in embryology made over the last five years, with IVF increasingly being led by the lab, and the onus being on doctors to deliver better quality sperm and eggs.

Consultant Professor Charles Kingsland is Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Edge Hill University in Merseyside and a Founder of The Hewitt Fertility Centre, and will be hosting seminars at The Fertility Show, Manchester on Saturday 25th March and Sunday 26th March.


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