A study of 200 people by Fertility Network UK found those desperate to become parents are finding themselves in a financial bind after pursuing treatment.
Some are even considering riskier treatment options, such as sourcing less reputable medication treatment online, in a bid to start a family.
Currently, the NHS only offers IVF treatment in certain circumstances.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) fertility guidelines, women under 40 should be offered three rounds of IVF if they've been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for two years, or they've not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination.
Women between 40 and 42 should be offered one cycle of IVF on the NHS if they fit into the above criteria. They also cannot have had any previous fertility treatments, show no evidence of low ovarian reserve, and they are made aware of the additional implications of pregnancy and treatment at this age
Over 95% of respondents to the survey reported experiencing or had experienced financial worries in relation to fertility treatment. Meanwhile, 92% said these money worries were being exacerbated by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
Half of all patients surveyed (49%) said financial pressures had meant they had to halt all fertility procedures, with 17% saying they were pausing treatment indefinitely.
Out of those continuing treatment, 16% reported high costs meant not having their preferred treatment, while 5% were now seeking cheaper treatment oversees.
Riskier treatment options include having a double embryo transfer rather than the recommended single embryo transfer, opting out of some ovulation monitoring scans and egg sharing.
Speaking about their decision, one patient responded to the survey: “Cost of frozen embryo transfer increased so had a double embryo transfer instead of single to reduce costs.”
Families are also seeing themselves getting into financial ruin in order to pay for treatment: 28% were using their life savings, 16% had paid on a credit card, and 4% of people had even remortgaged their house in order to afford fertility treatment.
One patient responded: “To start our treatment we had to re-mortgage our house and borrow an additional £15K from an external credit company (through IVF clinic). The repayments for this, alongside the recent interest rate increases on our mortgage mean we are having to find an additional £800+ per month. We haven’t taken a holiday in three years which has left me burned out at my job.
“We have four remaining embryos frozen, which are our last hope of our own children, and we cannot currently afford to have them transferred into me, which is devastating. If our treatment fails, we will still be paying off the debt for the next 10 years at least.”
Dr Catherine Hill, Fertility Network UK’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs, is now calling for fertility clinics to do more to support patients receiving treatment through the cost-of-living crisis.
“As the national charity, we are appalled at the findings of our survey assessing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on fertility patients and deeply concerned at the short and long-term impact on patients – physically, mentally and financially,” she said.
“Patients should not be facing the decision to discard much wanted embryos because they can’t afford the costs of transferring them or storing them. Patients should not be swayed into donating their eggs or having a double embryo transfer rather than the recommended single transfer in order to afford necessary medical healthcare. And patients should not be having to forego monitoring scans or genetic testing to avoid inherited conditions in order to be able to continue with treatment.”
Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added to Cosmopolitan UK: “It is upsetting to see the extent that the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating health inequalities. These findings suggest that an increasing number of people cannot afford to pay for fertility treatment, or are being priced out of continuing treatment."
Referring to the postcode lottery behind IVF treatment, in which different treatment is offered to patients depending on their geographical location, Dr Thakar also pointed towards the government's Women's Health Strategy. This is the government's proposed changes for services aimed at women over the next ten years; among their aims is to provide more money for fertility and pregnancy services.
“We hope that the commitments to improve access to NHS-funded fertility treatments within the Women’s Health Strategy will encouraging commissioners to adopt NICE guidelines and offer three full NHS-funded cycles of IVF, without setting local restrictions,” she said.
Meanwhile, Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of low-cost provider abc IVF, Senior NHS Consultant and Co-founder of the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, told Cosmopolitan UK: “The findings from FNUK’s research show that the cost-of-living crisis is having an undeniable impact on fertility patients already struggling under financial burden of IVF treatment.
"Infertility is a disease and IVF is an essential medical treatment which has created families for millions across the world. I therefore strongly urge the Government to bring an end to the IVF postcode lottery, to ensure fair and equal access of treatment funding on the NHS. However, for those women and couples who are unable to access treatment on the NHS, we must also offer and improve the availability of affordable IVF options.”
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