Only 30-35s to get IVF treatment under new plans
NHS providers might restrict fertility treatment to women aged 30-35 only in the future, under new proposals.
GP-led groups in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire could become the first in the UK to limit funding and services to such a narrow age range.
Fertility campaigners said the proposals were "arbitrary and unethical".
The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said it had to "live within its means".
Currently couples in the three areas can receive one free fertility cycle on the NHS up to the age of 40.
NHS oversight group Nice recommends women aged under 40 should be offered three cycles if they have been trying to conceive for two years.
A cost-saving programme suggests halving the number of patients is a justifiable way forward.
If the age criterion is changed, only those with "exceptional circumstances" outside the bracket would be considered for free treatment.
Cuts to the service in other parts of the country are widespread with some areas denying couples any access to NHS-funded IVF and 18 CCGs currently have an upper age limit of 35, but no lower age limit.
As well as reducing the number of IVF treatments, the CCG is also proposing:
- encouraging patients to buy over the counter medicine instead of using the prescription service
- introducing a system of prior approval for cosmetic surgery procedures
- introducing prior approval for sleep apnoea devices
- ending the contract for homeopathy treatments
- not funding cosmetic surgery to the unaffected breast in breast cancer cases
Professor Simon Fishel pioneered IVF in the UK, when he collaborated with others to enable the first test-tube baby to be born.
He said: "We live in a world where women aren't trying to have children until much later than what it was 20 years ago, and if they find out at that later stage they need help and are told 'you're just too old', that's utterly devastating."
The Fertility Network said it was "deeply concerned" at the lack of investment in NHS fertility services.
'Chance of success'
Deputy chief executive Leceia Gordon-Mackenzie said: "To suggest such a narrow window to the age criteria misrepresents the clinical evidence and Nice guidance.
"It is arbitrary and unethical.
"There will be many women, who do not meet this criterion, who experience the emotional distress of infertility, who will have their hopes dashed."
A spokesperson for NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCGs said: "We know how hard it can be for couples who are struggling to conceive and will continue to offer fertility treatment to hundreds of people every year.
"Clinical evidence shows that treatment between the ages of 30-35 offers the highest possible chance of success."
It urged patients and the public to give their feedback on proposals via its website.