Couples struggling with infertility have been facing uncertainty after it emerged that financial and legal supports promised by Leo Varadkar three years ago still has not been put in place.
Despite the Taoiseach last year announcing that €1m would go to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment for couples unable to conceive, not a cent of the special fund has been released.
An estimated one in four couples in Ireland struggle trying to have children, with private IVF treatment costs running into the thousands of euro.
The Department of Health said a model of care for infertility, tied to long-awaited assisted human reproduction (AHR) legislation and the fund, was still being worked on by officials. The stalled release of IVF support funds has prompted criticism that the Government is unfairly giving couples false hope.
Mr Varadkar, as health minister in 2016, originally announced the funds, saying it was “important that we should consider how best to provide public funding for fertility treatment”.
The Government approved the IVF financial aid plans in October 2017 and a specific €1m fund was then announced by the Taoiseach last December. In response to queries from the Irish Examiner, the Department of Health confirmed that the money had still not been made available to couples.
Health Minister Simon Harris and his officials are drafting legislation on regulating assisted reproduction. This is being done with Attorney General Séamus Woulfe while the Oireachtas health committee is also assessing the new laws.
The department said: “Interlinked with the legislation, officials in the department, in conjunction with the HSE, are developing a model of care for infertility and an associated public fund for AHR. This work includes developing proposals on the allocation of a €1m fund for use in relation to providing public AHR treatment which was announced in December 2018.
“Once the funding proposals have been submitted and approved by Government, there will be an announcement regarding the commencement of this fund.”
The continued delay in rolling out the fund has prompted infertility support groups and opposition parties to warn that couples are being taunted and denied much-needed help.
National Infertility Support and Information Group co-founder Helen Browne said the delayed funding for couples is “bitterly disappointing”.
“There are always reports of couples putting off having a baby because of careers,” she said.
It’s not, it is for financial reasons, they have to save. And then by the time they do, there may be problems with the quality of their eggs.
“Without doubt, financing treatment makes it difficult. People have to get loans. They [Government] haven’t spoken with us yet about the criteria for these funds and whether people will be means tested.”
Ms Browne said the fertility support group had discussed protesting outside the Department of Health over the lack of financial assistance for couples struggling with infertility.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has now directly raised the delayed funds for fertility treatment with the department.
“A number of couples have been in contact with me over the past few weeks asking about the €1m funding that was put aside for couples who need IVF,” he said.
“It is very expensive to get IVF and despite monies being announced on the last budget day and again last January. Yet none of the money has been drawn down. Not one couple has benefited yet.
“It is unfair to tease couples like this and the Fine Gael Government need to get their act together so that regulations can be put in place and so couples can apply for financial assistance as a matter of urgency.”
Ireland and Lithuania are the only EU countries that do not offer State funding for assisted reproduction.