HSE to use private sector for rollout of publicly funded fertility treatments

HSE to use private sector for rollout of publicly funded fertility treatments

The HSE has said the 'national eligibility framework' for who will be able to access such services and in what circumstance has yet to be finalised and remains under development at the Department of Health.

The HSE will use services in the private sector in the short to medium term when publicly-funded fertility services are rolled out later this year, as it aims to “build up a network of public capacity”.

It has begun initial steps to identify the level of interest and capacity within the private market to provide a range of treatments, such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Provided with funding of €10m in Budget 2023, it is envisaged these services will begin to be rolled out in September.

However, the HSE has said the vital “national eligibility framework” for who will be able to access such services and in what circumstance has yet to be finalised and remains under development at the Department of Health.

Ireland has long been an outlier across Europe when it comes to the lack of public provision of fertility treatments such as IVF. While most countries offer some element of publicly-funded care in the area of assisted conception, Ireland does not.

In late 2021, this jurisdiction came in 40th place out of a possible 43 in an index of countries in terms of access to fertility treatments, earning it an “exceptionally poor” rating. 

According to data from the Health Products Regulatory Authority, a combined total of 9,878 IVF, IUI, and frozen embryo transfer cycles were commenced in 2020.

A commitment to introduce a publicly-funded model of care for fertility treatment was included in the Programme for Government.

The HSE, as part of its work ahead of the expected September rollout, has said it needs to gain a better understanding of the private market here so it can be informed of the options available to it and the cost of such services.

“With a view to commencing access to publicly funded AHR [assisted human reproduction] services, the HSE is now planning for the operationalisation of both publicly and privately provided services,” it said. 

It is anticipated by the HSE that in the short to medium term, the majority of services will need to be provided via the private sector whilst the HSE build up a network of public capacity.” 

The rollout of publicly funded services is the second phase of the Government’s Model of Care for infertility, which was developed by the Department of Health and the HSE.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly replied to a recent parliamentary question that the funding made available to offer services through private providers in 2023 would be an “interim measure”.

Mr Donnelly said the provision of a completely publicly-provided fertility service is the “ultimate objective of Government” in this regard.

“In particular, it will allow the historic development of the first National Advanced AHR Centre, delivering IVF and ICSI through a wholly public clinic,” he said. 

“This is scheduled to open in the early part of 2024 and will provide a nationwide service, with all six regional fertility hubs having equity of access for onward referral to it, via a shared care pathway.”

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