Government pledges to end IVF policies which discriminate against same-sex female couples

  • As part of the Women's Health Strategy, the government will remove requirements for same-sex female couples to self-fund fertility treatment before becoming eligible for NHS-funded care.
  • BPAS Fertility, the not-for-profit fertility service which has led the campaign to revoke these discriminatory barriers, has welcomed the news, calling the need for reform "urgent and overdue."
  • However, it is unclear if this policy will extend to removing similar restrictions which affect single women in need of treatment.
  • The government has also announced measures to improve "transparency" around local policies will help to "tackle the IVF postcode lottery."
  • Yet, as BPAS Fertility state, "the IVF postcode lottery is not the result of a lack of transparency but a consequence of a systemic problem with the way fertility services are funded in England."
  • The charity has called for national standardisation to end the current harmful discrepancies in provision

The government has announced the removal of requirements for same-sex female couples to pay for artificial insemination prior to being eligible for NHS-funded IVF services. This commitment is a part of the government's Women's Health Strategy, published today.

Currently, NHS-funded care is commonly given to heterosexual couples once they can demonstrate they have tried to conceive naturally for 2-3 years. However, female same-sex couples – and single women - are required to establish their “fertility status” by self-funding several rounds of artificial insemination (AI) privately, at considerable cost. An investigation into NHS-funded fertility care by BPAS Fertility found that the majority (76%) of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) require same-sex female couples to self-fund a minimum of 3 self-funded AI cycles and frequently up to 12 cycles, which can cost as much as £1,600 per cycle, or almost £20,000 in total.

BPAS Fertility has led the campaign to revoke these unfair policies. Commenting on the announcement, BPAS Fertility’s Director of Embryology, Marta Jansa Perez, said:

“We are absolutely delighted that the government has committed to removing discriminatory barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples.
“Fertility services are crucial in supporting the development of different family structures. However, our research has found that female same-sex couples and single women are disproportionately impacted by policies which require that they self-finance costly, and less effective, artificial insemination, in some cases for at least 2 years, before becoming eligible for funded IVF. These restrictions amount to a tax on LGBT+ families, and the impact can be truly devastating. One same-sex couple told us that their experience of trying to access NHS-funded fertility treatment caused them to feel, for the first time in their life, a "deep sadness at being gay.” The need for reform is urgent and overdue.
“Unfortunately, single women are also affected by similar requirements, and it is unclear if the changes announced by the government today will also apply to this group of fertility patients. In the 21st century there can be no justification for NHS policies that exclude patients on the basis of their relationship status. We will be examining the policies in detail when published, and we will continue to campaign for fair and equal access for all fertility patients, including single women.”
Marta Jansa Perez, Director of Embryology

The government also announced that there will be measures to “improve transparency on provision and availability of IVF so prospective parents can see how their local area performs to tackle the “postcode lottery” in access to IVF treatment.”

Commenting on this policy, Marta Jansa Perez said:

“The IVF postcode lottery is not the result of a lack of transparency but a consequence of a systemic problem with the way fertility services are funded in England.
“In the context of intense funding pressures, CCG policymakers have the difficult job of allocating resources to address competing health needs, of which infertility is one. However, no other area of healthcare is restricted to the extent of fertility services, and the extent to which individuals are now expected to self-fund this one area of treatment, including by traveling abroad for care, is not seen in any other area of healthcare.
“Patients are acutely aware of the unfairness of the current system, so it is difficult to see how improving transparency will have any meaningful impact on the postcode lottery. There needs to be a standardisation across CCGs to end harmful discrepancies, and fertility treatment should be commissioned in a way that reflects the importance – and cost-effectiveness – of patients receiving this care.”
Marta Jansa Perez, Director of Embryology

Ends

For further information, please contact Katherine O’Brien, BPAS Associate Director of Campaigns and Communications, on katherine.o’brien@bpas.org or 07881 265276.

About BPAS Fertility

BPAS Fertility is the UK's first and only not-for-profit fertility service. We provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that does not profiteer from patients. Our service gives those ineligible for NHS funding an affordable option to access the care they need. 

We also advocate to improve care for all whether they are seeking treatment from the NHS or the private sector, and led the campaign to revoke policies which discriminate against same-sex couples. To learn more about our advocacy work, click here.