Women struggling to conceive are hit with ‘cruel’ age limit of 35 for IVF treatment in some parts of the UK

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Women struggling to conceive have been hit with a ‘cruel’ age limit of 35 for IVF treatment in some parts of the country.

The NHS should offer three free cycles of IVF for patients up to the age of 40 if they have been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for two years, or have repeated failed attempts at artificial insemination.

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also say fertility treatment should be offered up to the age of 42 under certain criteria. But some areas are flouting the guidance by insisting women can get IVF only up to the age of 35, which forces many couples to pay thousands of pounds to private clinics or abandon their hopes of starting a family.

Fertility Network UK, a support group, keeps track of the criteria imposed for IVF within integrated care boards (ICBs)– organisations that arrange health services and manage local NHS budgets.

Emma Buck, who paid £15,000 to have a baby at 39, is pictured at home in Southampton with her 9 week old baby Austin

The NHS should offer three free cycles of IVF for patients up to the age of 40 if they have been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for two years, or have repeated failed attempts at artificial insemination (stock photo)

The NHS should offer three free cycles of IVF for patients up to the age of 40 if they have been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for two years, or have repeated failed attempts at artificial insemination (stock photo)

It found the age limit was 35 within NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight ICB, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and West Berkshire ICB and NHS Frimley ICB.

I paid £15k to have baby at 39

Had she lived 20 minutes away, Emma Buck would have been able to get IVF for free.

She didn’t qualify for funding in the NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight area, meaning she paid £15,000 for two private cycles of fertility treatment, almost wiping out her life savings.

Luckily the second cycle worked and the 39-year-old NHS manager now has a son Austin. Mrs Buck, who lives with husband Gavin in Southampton, said: ‘It was always at the back of our minds that if we lived 20 minutes down the road, we would have been eligible for NHS funding.

‘An age limit of 35 feels ageist and it should no longer be in place. I don’t want anyone else to feel as isolated going through it, and having to research and pay privately, as we did.’

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All three boards say their policies are under review. But Dr Catherine Hill, of Fertility Network UK, said: ‘Making 35 the cut-off age for women to have NHS-funded IVF is one of the most cruel and ignorant ways ICBs ration access to NHS-funded fertility treatment – and it goes against national recommendations which place the cut-off age at 42. Most women or their partners are not aware that at least three areas in England have this extremely strict policy, and are understandably shocked and devastated when they discover it.’

A GP working in Oxfordshire, who asked not to be named, said the age limit in her area had left many patients distraught. She added: ‘I have had patients sob in consultations when they realise that, because they are now 35, they will have to find £8,000-plus for a cycle, which frankly is a sum of money that is out of reach for many people.’

Reasons for NHS-funded fertility treatment being denied have included couples not having been in a relationship for long enough, the weight of the father or one partner having a child already.

Many campaigners have criticised the postcode lottery, which means some couples get three attempts at IVF for free on the NHS while others living elsewhere are denied even one cycle.

NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight ICB said: ‘We understand how important IVF is for couples… and to ensure our policy is consistent with best clinical practice, national policy and other commissioners of this service, our policy is currently under review.’

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