Private IVF treatment costs between £3,000 and £5,000 per cycle, making it unaffordable for many couples struggling to conceive. The alternative is often long waiting times on the NHS and that’s if free treatment is even available in your area – recent research has revealed a drastic “postcode lottery” in relation to access, with some women denied referrals depending on where they live.
But now, a private London centre, the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, is offering one free round of IVF as a prize to women who enter a Christmas lottery.
The competition has divided opinion with some women welcoming the opportunity for cheaper private treatment while others say it’ll place desperate couples in an “appalling situation”.
[Read More: Who can get IVF for free on the NHS?]
Current and new patients can enter the prize draw throughout December, providing they register and have an initial consultation at the clinic, which costs £200.
“Forget perfume, scented candles and chocolates, the Harley Street Fertility Clinic will be giving one patient a free round of IVF for Christmas,” the ad for the lottery reads.
“While the prize won’t take away the anxiety or worry around fertility treatment, the full cycle of IVF, using a fresh or deferred embryo transfer, and including all medications and blastocyst culture, will hopefully ease the financial burden of treatment for the winning patient and take them a step closer to having a child of their own.”
The winner will be drawn at random via a Facebook Live event on Friday 03 January 2019 and their treatment will start before 31 March 2019.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) does not support the idea. “I thought this was a spoof when I read it – it’s hard to see how anyone who understands the issues infertile couples face can indulge in this kind of stunt,” she told HuffPost UK.
“It illustrates the dire state of access to assisted conception in this country, placing couples who can’t afford private fees in an appalling situation where this kind of ‘lottery’ – which they effectively have to pay to enter – may be their only hope of a baby.”
She added that BPAS was originally set up as a not-for-profit charity to help women struggling to access abortion care on the NHS, and believes we may now need to adopt a similar approach nationally to support women seeking IVF.
Sarah Norcross, co-chair from the organisation Fertility Fairness, which campaigns for people to have equal access to fertility treatment, agreed the lottery is not the answer.
“The NHS postcode lottery in England causes hardship and heartache – a competition to win IVF if you make an appointment at a private clinic is not a solution but clever marketing,” she said.
But Siobhan, a 32-year-old project manager from east London, thinks the lottery is a good idea from the private clinic.
She is due to start IVF treatment on the NHS in December after being on the waiting list for more than 11 months. However, if her NHS treatment is not successful, she says she would consider entering a draw like this.
“The round could potentially provide someone who can’t afford IVF, has exhausted their NHS options or who has no access to NHS treatment, with an opportunity to have a child,” she told HuffPost UK.
“My only concern would be the added disappointment that couples might feel if they enter and don’t win the free round. [But] if none of our NHS rounds are successful, and there was an offer like this, I would definitely enter.
“With the increased cuts to NHS IVF and the ongoing ‘postcode lottery’, the opportunity to have a free round could be life changing.”
Recent data released by the organisation Fertility Fairness suggests women are being denied NHS IVF treatment depending on where they live, as decisions are made at local level via clinical commissioning groups.
Almost half (48 per cent) of clinical commissioning groups do not offer NHS IVF to women aged 40-42, according to the report, despite this going against guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). What’s more, 10 per cent of CCGs refuse access to IVF on the NHS if women are over 35.
Aileen Feeney, chief executive of Fertility Fairness, previously told HuffPost UK that couples turned away from NHS clinics have very few options.
“Unfortunately there are not many options open to patients who live in a CCG area that rations treatment unfairly. There is an individual funding request process available that people can follow,” she said. “We would also recommend people write to their MPs to highlight this unfair situation.”