Couples face agony over IVF ‘postcode lottery’

NADV 1312174AM1 Paul and Sarah Petty. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1312174AM1)
NADV 1312174AM1 Paul and Sarah Petty. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1312174AM1)

After six years of trying for a baby Harrogate couple, Sarah and Paul Petty made the difficult decision to try IVF treatment.

The decision was made more difficult as the couple faced bills of thousands of pounds after Harrogate and District Clinical Commisioning Group (CCG) refused their application for IVF treatment.

The couple are not alone, since the CCG’s current policy was implemented in 2010 not one person in the Harrogate district has qualified for IVF treatment.

“One private IVF treatment costs around £5,500, it is lot of money,” said Paul, 39.

“We thought, we are getting nowhere here, so we started to save up and our family helped us and we paid to go privately.

“Basically that is all our money, and our families’ money.”

Despite NICE issuing national guidelines calling for all patients to have up to three treatments funded by the NHS, Harrogate and Rural District CCG’s current policy states IVF treatment is not routinely commissioned unless ‘exceptionality’ can be demonstrated.

Two doctors supported the couple’s application and argued their case was an exception due to a ‘significant delay’ in diagnosis of Sarah’s ectopic pregnancy.

In 2007 Sarah, 38, suffered from a miscarriage due to an ectopic pregnancy and had to undergo emergency surgery.

The delayed diagnosis and complications from that surgery, Sarah and her doctors believe, have decreased her chances of conceiving over the years

“We weren’t trying for a baby then, with my first ectopic pregnancy. Paul had just lost his father and things were a bit all over the place. But it got us to thinking that, yes we wanted a family and so we started to try to get pregnant,” said Sarah.

However the couple endured more heartache when in January 2011 Sarah suffered a second ectopic pregnancy, on the same side as her first.

She said: “I thought it was not possible, because the tube should have been removed.”

By 2012 the couple were fed up, having tried remedies and specialist technology and asked their GP to put them forward for IVF treatment.

In a letter to the CCG board the doctor wrote, “I would be surprised if any woman had similar circumstances, and believe Sarah Petty’s case demonstrates individual exceptionality.’

But despite the backing of two doctors the couple’s application was refused.

Paul said: “If our situation is not an exceptional case I don’t know what is.

“We could have used our money to go to a solicitor and have a legal case, but we don’t want to. We don’t want to let the situation go, but time isn’t on our side, we wanted to get started.”

What is more frustrating for the couple is the knowledge that if they lived elsewhere in the country they would be more likely to receive NHS treatment.

Of the 211 CCGs in England around 198 fund IVF treatment.

Sarah, who moved to Harrogate from Widnes in Cheshire to live with Paul when she was 21-years-old said: “If we lived in Widnes, we would be getting more help, I hear from people living there and they are getting the help.”

Sarah said: “It’s affected us so much, a different story and we could have had a family by now.”

Paul added: “I’ve got mates at the football in Leeds who are going through a similar thing, and they have three turns on the NHS and we don’t even get one. We have to pay for it ourselves, it’s just not right.

“It has been six years of our lives, all our mates have all had their kids and have their families. Two of our close friends have also got two kids, so there are all them with their kids and our friends say they don’t want to bring it up with us or upset us - but it isn’t like that.

“We love their children and get to enjoy them growing up too, we are godparents to two of them and we are a big part of their lives.”

The couple took the decision to undergo private treatment late last year.

Paul said: “It was a hard decision, we saved up to pay for this because we didn’t want to get into debt with IVF before the cost of having a baby like so many other couples do.”

Unfortunately for the couple their first treatment cycle was not successful and will try again which will not be as much as the first initial cost. “It would have been nice to have received some help in the beginning from the CCG, especially in this exceptional case”.

Sarah said: “We are just staying positive that the next go will be more successful.

“I don’t think people in Harrogate realise the situation, the lack of help you get. We don’t want other people to have go through what we have been through.”

*The Harrogate and Rural District CCG were unable to comment as they cannot discuss individuals cases.

Infertility Network UK have slammed the postcode lottery which has led to thousands of couples being refused NHS treatment.

Susan Seenan, chief executive of patient charity, Infertility Network UK, said: “It is now nearly 10 years since the original NICE guideline was published and yet here we are, in 2013, still facing a situation whereby the level of service is determined by postcode.

“Harrogate and Rural CCG has chosen to follow the policy of its predecessor Primary Care Trust, and is consequently offering no funding for IVF; this is totally unacceptable and disadvantages many local people struggling to conceive.

“I would strongly urge them to implement the recommendations of the NICE guideline and give people access to the treatment they are entitled to.”