Health Minister Leo Varadkar has confirmed his intention to provide public funding for assisted reproductive treatment in conjunction with the planned introduction of legislation saying fertility treatments should be funded in such a way “that not only maximises efficiency but which ensures equity of access as well”.
A review of international public funding models is to be carried out and it is hoped the legislation could be in place by the end of 2016 or early next year.
Dr Cathy Allen, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Merrion Fertility clinic at the National Maternity Hospital welcomed the news. She said about one in six couples will need help. “They will experience some sort of a delay in conceiving when they want to,” she said. “For many of them a visit to their primary care physician GP can be extremely helpful, sometimes its a lifestyle adjustment that needs to be done. For people who are referred on for more expert help to secondary level fertility clinics in hospital or tertiary level assisted reproductive medicine units, about half of those will be referred on for in vitro fertilisation.”
While the Government has not provided final details of how the scheme will operate and be funded, it is likely to be consider factors such as the age of the mother and number of treatments of IVF treatments it is willing to pay for.
Dr Allen told the Anton Savage Show on Today FM: “If you are looking at an economic model, I think the Government will have to considering funding, possibly certain in categories up to three cycles to give people a fair crack of the whip.” She confirmed the treatment is expensive, about €4,000 per cycle.
“That is fresh creation of embryos,” she said. “But some couples will be lucky and they might make three or four or even five embryos. So we put back one and cryo-preserve or freeze the other ones for the future. Once they are safely in the cryo-preservation, that is not quite so expensive and they can remain there.”
Dr John Waterstone, President of the Irish Fertility Society and medical director of the Cork Fertility Centre said: “My hope is that whatever funding arrangements are made are comprehensive, and I would particularly hope that they provide for the area of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This treatment is used for couples at genetic risk, who are endeavouring, in a proactive way, to prevent transmitting life limiting conditions to their children.”
Helen Browne, co-founder of the National Infertility Support and Information Group, said going for fertility treatment is a stressful and emotional journey for women.
“Having funding will relieve some of that stress,” she said. She pointed out that, prior to the economic crash, some women could afford to pay privately for one cycle of IVF treatment and, if a second was required which was the case in more than half of cases, they would maybe seek help from relatives.
She said after the crash, that was all gone. While some were left with no treatment option because of the cost, others were forced to travel to other countries, such as the Czech Republic, to seek treatment as it was as much as 50% cheaper.