Discriminatory NHS rules on IVF for queer women to be scrapped in huge leap for equality

A pregnant same-sex couple

Countless queer women, trans men and non-binary people will no longer face steep financial barriers to access NHS fertility treatment in a landmark shift.

Until now, queer couples seeking IVF treatment who require donor sperm in England have been forced to go through several rounds of expensive intrauterine insemination (IUI), costing some couples as much as £25,000, before they were considered for NHS-funded treatment.

Cisgender, opposite-sex couples must simply try to conceive for two years before they can receive funded IVF.

After lengthy calls for equitable access, the government announced on Wednesday (20 July), that, as part of its new Women’s Health Strategy, there will no longer be a requirement for cis women in same-sex couples, as well as trans men and non-binary people seeking IVF, to pay for artificial insemination “to prove their fertility status”.

Now, NHS fertility treatment will begin with six rounds of funded IUI, before moving onto IVF if necessary.

The government has also vowed to end the “postcode lottery” for fertility treatment, experienced by heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people alike, by improving “transparency on provision and availability of IVF so prospective parents can see how their local area performs”.

Other measures in the strategy, developed following a call for evidence which generated almost 100,000 responses from across England, include an investment of £10 million into breast screening programmes, recognising parents who have lost a child before 24 weeks through the introduction of a pregnancy loss certificate in England, and improvements to specialist endometriosis services.

Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, said: “We are delighted that the UK government has listened to our call for fair and equal access to IVF treatment.

“For years, lesbians, bi women and trans people have been forced to pay for up to £25,000 of private healthcare before they can access IVF on the NHS, or face giving up their dream of becoming parents.

“This is a giant step towards a world where LGBTQ+ people have the same opportunity as everyone else to build a loving, thriving family of their own.”

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: “Our health and care system only works if it works for everyone.

“It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex.

“The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.”

Barriers remain, however, for other queer couples. Trans and non-binary people who require fertility preservation treatment have long faced a “postcode lottery” for funded treatment.

Couples seeking to become parents via surrogacy, including same-sex male couples, are forced to rely on trust, with commercial surrogacy not legal in the UK, and surrogate mothers and, if they are married to men, their husbands, receiving immediate parental rights.