Scottish government to fund three IVF cycles on NHS
Patients referred to the NHS for fertility treatment in Scotland could be eligible for three full cycles of IVF treatment from next month.
The Scottish government said it would increase the number of IVF cycles available on the NHS for women under 40, from two to three.
Older women aged between 40 and 42 will be offered one round of IVF if they fit certain criteria.
It is expected to cost the NHS about £1m a year.
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said the changes made access to NHS IVF in Scotland the "fairest and most generous in the UK".
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she defended the spending at a time of pressure on accident and emergency departments and waiting times.
Ms Campbell said: "We have always had a commitment towards ensuring there is as equitable access to IVF as there possibly can be and we had a number of recommendations presented to us that we accepted from the national infertility group.
"One of these included ensuring that couples could get access to three cycles of IVF. That is today what we are taking forward."
It is thought that around one in seven couples experience difficulty having children.
The announcement follows recommendations made by the National Infertility Group.
Ms Campbell said: "The very positive announcement of allowing couples who are desiring to have a family to get access to three cycles has been welcomed across the different fertility organisations."
The SNP minister said money had been "put aside" to fund the IVF programme.
Asked how she squared this with other demands on funding in the Scottish NHS, she said: "We have got a fairly strong record across Scotland on our NHS. Some of our A&Es have outperformed the lion's share of England's A&Es.
"We are outperforming A&Es across the UK and have done for some months. We have good investment levels in the NHS and we have record numbers of staff.
"We have got a commitment to our NHS that we will invest more money in our NHS than any of the other parties that stood in the election."
Susan Seenan, the chief executive of the charity Fertility Network, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that the Scottish government announcement was "tremendous news".
She said: "The reason for offering three cycles of treatment is because that's the most cost and clinically-effective number of treatments to offer patients.
"They [the Scottish government] have been very supportive over the last few years working with us on this. And it's tremendous news for patients that they've decided to opt to introduce the third cycle from the 1 April and give patients in Scotland the best access across the UK."
And Ms Seenan defended the move against accusations that the money could be better spent elsewhere in the NHS.
She said: "The NHS is not here just for life-threatening or life-changing conditions.
"The NHS is here to treat people who have a medical condition, a medical need, and if there's an effective treatment to offer them then that's what they should be able to access. And that's what the government has recognised.
"Many people are not in a position to pay [for IVF] themselves. Some people can afford to pay, but some people can only afford to pay for one cycle. Some can perhaps not even afford to pay for that one cycle.
"The government is very supportive of this as a medical need and what they're doing here is making sure that it is fair and it is equitable for everyone across Scotland and that's to be applauded."