Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to block Croydon’s decision to become the first London borough to axe IVF funding in a radical bid to save NHS cash.
The Health Secretary has been asked by Croydon council to intervene after the borough’s clinical commissioning group voted to withdraw funding for fertility treatment with immediate effect last month.
The council says the decision has created a “postcode lottery” for infertile Londoners and could discourage young people from moving to the borough.
More than three-quarters of respondents to the CCG’s consultation wanted IVF to be retained. The decision – which breaches NHS guidelines on the availability of fertility treatment – forces infertile couples in Croydon into spending thousands on private treatment if they want to have children.
The council says the decision unfairly impacts on those unable to afford private healthcare and could lead to an increase in anxiety, depression and relationship breakdown.
It comes as a Richmond CCG consultation on restricting IVF to “patients with exceptional clinical circumstances” closed this week. A final decision is expected next month or in July.
The Croydon decision, which will save about £1.1 million over two years, is also likely to result in the closure of the fertility unit at Croydon hospital, which has treated thousands of women. The CCG has been ordered to make £54 million of cuts.
Councillor Carole Bonner, chairwoman of the council’s health scrutiny committee, said: “We’re making this referral because of the potential long-term adverse health effects the removal of IVF will have on Croydon residents.
“Not only can infertility result in family breakdown and the ending of relationships, but it often has an impact on the mental health of those affected.
“A comprehensive study was carried out by Middlesex University and the Fertility Network that showed a clear correlation between infertility and depression, with 90 per cent experiencing depression.
“The committee is acutely aware of, and has sympathy for, the CCG’s underfunding and the inconsistencies of the funding formula when compared to similar authorities. However, we feel that the effects of the withdrawal of IVF funding in Croydon are not in the best interests of the borough’s residents.”
Council leader Tony Newman said: “It’s true to say that the decision to withdraw funding will be reviewed in a year, but, even if the funding is restored at that point, there would be residents who have passed the age limit and missed the chance of conceiving.
“On a personal level, that could have devastating consequences, and that’s why we’re urging the Secretary of State to review the CCG’s decision and also to allocate additional funding to the historically underfunded Croydon group.”
The Department of Health said that all CCGs had been advised to implement the NHS guidelines – for three full cycles of IVF – in full. A spokeswoman said: “Fertility problems can have a serious and lasting impact on those affected, which is why we expect all CCGs to implement NICE guidelines.”
Croydon CCG previously funded one round of IVF or ICSI – a more precise form of treatment that involves injecting sperm directly into an egg – to women under 39 who had been unable to conceive for three years. An average of 94 couples a year received free treatment.
Dr Agnelo Fernandes, assistant clinical chair of Croydon CCG, said: “We took this difficult decision only after careful consideration and discussion in the context of the increasingly challenging financial position we face. We have a statutory requirement to prioritise front line services for the people of Croydon and live within the financial resources available to us.
“We will work closely with the committee and the Department of Health to ensure the process is dealt with as swiftly as possible to bring certainty to Croydon residents.
“We would like to stress that IVF and ICSI are still available to those with exceptional clinical circumstances and that other forms of fertility treatment are still available.”