IVF referrals suspended in West Kent to cut costs

Image caption Couples will not be referred for IVF treatment until April 2011 unless there is an urgent need

Non-urgent fertility treatment and weight loss surgical procedures are to be suspended in West Kent to help tackle a £40m budget shortfall.

West Kent Primary Care Trust is to defer referrals for IVF treatment, bariatric surgery and gender reassignment until April 2011.

The trust will also start prescribing a cheaper drug for the eye condition, age-related macular degeneration.

A fertility expert said the decision to delay IVF would cause huge distress.

The trust said no-one with a strong clinical need for the treatments would miss out.

'Conditions relatively rare'

Chief executive Marion Dinwoodie outlined the decision in a letter to GPs on Monday.

He said: "At month six, which is halfway through the year, there is the potential for a £40m gap in our local health system to meet our financial responsibilities.

"Failure to act now will only compound the problem in future years."

Fertility specialist Dr Michael Rimington said: "It will be very worrying because these couples will already have been trying for pregnancy for some time and then plucked up the courage to see their family doctor to consider assessment and referral and then they will be told that they cannot be referred at this stage."

Hawkhurst GP Dr Robert Blundell said: "For these unfortunate people it is going to be very upsetting.

"I think they [the trust] have been clever in choosing conditions which are relatively rare and it's not actually going to affect huge numbers of individuals but obviously for those individuals it will be quite distressing."

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