Government urged to end ‘outrageous’ IVF discrimination pricing queer couples out of parenthood

Lesbian couples are struggling to access IVF on the NHS

Stonewall, Britain’s biggest LGBT+ rights group, is urging NICE and the government to end the “postcode lottery” LGBT+ people face when accessing IVF.

A majority of England’s NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) require same-sex couple to privately fund fertility treatment before they are eligible for NHS care, the charity found.

Stonewall analysed data compiled by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), and found that 80 per cent of CCGs require same-sex couples to pay for at least three rounds of artificial insemination out of their own pocket to access IVF on the NHS. Some private clinics charge £2,000 for a single round.

Of those, a fifth of CCGs demand same-sex couples fund a dozen cycles of artificial insemination, which can cost up to £25,000 – pricing many couples out of having children.

Mixed-sex couples, however, face no such hurdles. In most cases, they simply have to say they have been trying to convince naturally for two years to access IVF.

Only 14 CCGs in England – mostly in Yorkshire – do not require LGBT+ parents-to-be to pay anything before accessing NHS care.

This simply can’t go on, Stonewall says. In an impassioned campaign launched Tuesday (18 January), the charity demanded that the government end such disparities in fertility access for good.

As part of the campaign, Stonewall has launched a postcode checker to enable people to check the availability of IVF on the NHS in their area, and showcase just how access to fertility treatment can wildly vary even from town to town.

The constituency of Skipton and Ripon, in Yorkshire, highlights just how stark the disparities can be. While some postcodes in the area are covered by CCGs which don’t require LGBT+ couples to financially contribute toward fertility treatment, others are covered by a CCG requiring the maximum 12 cycles of self-funded artificial insemination before IVF, which can cost up to £25,000.

Stonewall is calling for changes to NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines to address the inequality, and for the UK government to prioritise equal access to fertility treatment for mixed and same-sex couples.

Nancy Kelley, the charity’s CEO, said: “Access to fertility services should not be dictated by where you live or who you love but our new tool highlights that LGBTQ+ people face a discriminatory postcode lottery when trying to access NHS fertility services.

“It’s outrageous that, in some areas, LGBTQ+ couples trying to start a family using IVF have to pay £25,000 more than their neighbours to access vital fertility services. For many, this extra financial burden is insurmountable.”

In fight for fertility equality, LGBT+ couples sue NHS for discrimination

Then-health secretary Matt Hancock promised to review IVF funding guidelines in 2019, but this was apparently delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, a married lesbian couple launched a legal case against the NHS.

Social media influencers Megan Bacon-Evans, 34, and her wife Whitney, 33, have accused the NHS of discriminating against queer couples with these towering expectations and costs.

“We’re doing this for every LGBT+ couple who had to give up on their hopes and dreams of creating a family,” said Bacon-Evans in a statement to The Guardian.

“It’s time for discrimination to end and for there to be equal treatment with heterosexual couples in the healthcare system.”

In 2019, almost 53,000 patients had around 69,000 fresh and frozen IVF cycles, according to the Human fertilisation and Embryology Authority.