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Is it possible to have IVF fertility treatment on the NHS?

One of the most commonly asked IVF questions in the UK, is whether treatment is available on the NHS. Although, the answer is yes, the reality isn't quite as simple as that.

The availability of IVF treatment on the NHS is governed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. They recommend that all couples should be allowed up to three cycles of IVF if they are between 23 and 39 years of age, and at least one individual has been diagnosed with a fertility problem or has been infertile for at least three years.

First or all, it's clear to see that this excludes a great many couples who don't fit into these criteria such as those aged forty and over. Although it's understandable that treatment must be given to those with a better chance of success, this is a tragedy for women aged forty plus who are desperate to start a family.

Secondly, the recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is merely advice. Hospitals aren't obliged to offer IVF treatment at all. In some areas of the country, up to 40% of local hospitals don't offer any IVF treatment.

Thirdly, although your local hospital may offer IVF care, you're unlikely to receive treatment right away. IVF waiting lists on the NHS can be very long, which can be critical as many couples' chances of falling pregnant decrease with every passing month.

And finally, it's important to note that the recommendation is for up to three free cycles of IVF per couple. In effect, hospitals need only offer one cycle, and indeed many do. It's estimated that up to 80% of hospitals don't offer the three cycles of IVF outlined by the National Institute for Health.

The availability of NHS funding will also greatly depend upon the country in which you live. England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have increasingly different funding criteria for fertility treatment on the NHS. For example, in Scotland the female age limit for fertility treatment is 38 years. Whereas, in England, women up to the age of 39 will be considered for NHS funding. Take a look at more details on how NHS funding differs around the UK.

If you're unable to find funding for fertility treatment on the NHS, you can, of course, still have treatment at a private clinic in the UK or abroad. The cost of IVF at a private clinic in the UK is approximately 4,000 to 6,000 per cycle of treatment. Prices can be up to 40% cheaper abroad but often these savings come at the cost of inferior treatment o a greater risk of complications. Find out more about having IVF treatment abroad.

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