Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Why is the supposedly cash-strapped NHS paying for IVF?

There’s a photo of a nice, smiling couple on their wedding day in this morning’s paper – the sort of image that releases a floodlet of endorphins into the system of any normal human being. But then I read the headline of the accompanying story: “Couple win fight to get NHS money for IVF”, and the feel-good effect rapidly evaporated.

The couple were disqualified from receiving free IVF treatment on the reasonable grounds that the husband had already sired a child with a previous partner (mother and child now live 200 miles away). 

Of course, the couple contribute towards the prescription pills I have to guzzle every day, but I have a number of mainly routine, treatable conditions (in the unliklely event I ever wanted to check out, I'd only have to take an extended underdose) and I reckon I'm getting back part of what I put in. And If either of these people were to fall ill, I’d be only too happy for some of my NHS contributions to be spent on treatments to make them better. 

But not being able to conceive doesn’t constitute an illness, and it isn’t a debilitating condition. Yes, it can be very sad, and, for some couples, quite heartbreaking. If every individual procreative act resulted in pregnancy in the overwhelming majority of instances,  the inability to conceive would fall into that category of abnormal states which we might reasonably expect the NHS to try to put right: it would be in the same category as not being able to see, walk, feel, taste, grasp, eat, drink or pee – these are functions we would expect our bodies to be able to perform whenever we needed them to, and the quality of our lives would be severely impaired without them.

Conception just isn’t like that. The vast majority of couplings – even where the aim is procreation – don’t result in pregnancy. Lots of thing have to be just right in order for the desired outcome to be achieved (unless, it seems, you’re a teenage girl and the sperm donor is an unemployable moron).

This may sound like I’m denying desperate and no doubt mainly decent human beings the chance of happiness. But I’m not. Because the most expensive private IVF treatment costs about £8,000 a go. The NHS limits the number of treatments for any couple to three. So what I’m asking is for couples who are desperate to have children to spend an absolute maximum of £24,000 to match the most generous treatment they could expect on my dollar.

Well, if they’re that keen, what’s the problem? 

I read somewhere recently that it costs well over £100,000 to bring up a child at today’s prices – if you send them to a private school, that rises to over £250,000. Is it unreasonable to expect people willing to spend that much money on a child to find up to £24,000 to obtain one in the first place – with the chance that the whole process might cost no more than a few thousand pounds??

And if couples can’t afford – or aren’t willing – to pay the cost, then maybe they really shouldn’t be thinking of having children.

In any case, I don’t see why I should be paying towards it.


  1. It's one of those issues which fall into the category which politicians fear:- "We know what's needed but not how to get re-elected afterwards.". So that's why it's never debated in mainstream political debate, which itself rarely covers the many things the NHS should not be funding.

    You are right. I've always thought the criminal injuries compensation scheme is in the same category. It's based on the premise that the State should pick up the bill for the acts of misfortune which life doles out to people in its random way. And it's also in that group of policies, like free IVF, which once granted can never be discontinued by any politician wanting a career. Which is why it's here to stay.

  2. Thank you, ex-KCS - sounds like an acute analysis of the problem. What I'm convinced of, though, is that politicians often display duff instincts when it comes to what the public will wear. I've been trying to remember who recently published a book advancing the theory that the political class is usually about 15 years behind publc opinion on most issues - they cited the EU as a classic example. That sounds about right to me - it's why Reagan and Thatcher so regularly caught the Liberal-Left establishment napping - on most issues, they could read the public better than the established ruling class. I have a feeling IVF treatment might be one of the issues that excites a small group of individuals - but which the public basically doesn't give a stuff about. Ditto criminal injuries compensation, which strikes me as yet another method - along with counselling and Community Support policing - to distract the public from the fact that the Criminal Justice System is grossly inefficient and heavily weighted in favour of criminals. Again, I reckon the public - whether it can articulate the realisation or not - saw through all that smoke and mirrors nonsense years ago.