NHS is refusing IVF to women if their husbands are too fat… but fertility experts accuse health bosses of 'making up rules'
Childless women are being denied NHS fertility treatment if their husbands are too fat.
Health bosses have quietly introduced rules denying IVF to couples in which the man is defined as being ‘obese’.
Fertility experts last night accused clinical commissioning groups of ‘making up rules’ to justify rationing.
Health bosses have quietly introduced rules denying IVF to couples in which the man is defined as being ‘obese’
The Bath and North East Somerset clinical commissioning group (CCG) has drawn up proposals to stop funding IVF for women whose partners have a ‘body mass index’ of more than 30 – ruling out a quarter of the men in England.
For the past decade most areas have withdrawn IVF from obese women, because evidence shows overweight women struggle to conceive even with fertility treatment. But critics say the same does not apply to men, whose sperm quality is unaffected by obesity.
Professor Allan Pacey, a male fertility expert at Sheffield University, said: ‘I can only conclude that CCGs are making up their own rules in order to ration funding.’
Aileen Feeney, chief executive of the Fertility Network UK charity, added: ‘This is another appalling example of how health bosses are trying to ration NHS fertility services by introducing arbitrary access criteria.
‘It is not the role of CCGs to rewrite national guidelines on who is clinically eligible to access NHS IVF.’ The Bath proposal follows Dorset, which introduced the same restriction last month, West Cheshire, which did so last April, and Devon, which introduced the ban seven years ago.
Aileen Feeney, chief executive of the Fertility Network UK charity, added: ‘This is another appalling example of how health bosses are trying to ration NHS fertility services by introducing arbitrary access criteria’
The East of England group also has a male weight limit, but at the BMI threshold of 35. And obese men in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire who want IVF are referred for weight reduction classes.
Martin Tod, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum, said restricting access to IVF on such grounds was ‘illogical and unethical’. He added: ‘The purpose of IVF is to achieve pregnancy and help those who are infertile.
‘The new criteria seem to be designed to arbitrarily exclude some couples with infertility that IVF is intended to remedy.’
Mr Tod also took aim at the BMI measure as a ‘blunt tool’ that cannot distinguish between muscle and fat.
The system compares someone’s weight with their height, so a man of 5ft 10in is classed as ‘obese’ if they weigh more than 14st 13lb, for example. But it means well-built muscular athletes are categorised as obese, even though they are extremely healthy.
Mr Tod said: ‘That would mean that more than 70 per cent of Bath Rugby Club’s forwards would not be able to access IVF with their partners should they need to.’
Health bosses are under huge pressure to reduce funding amid soaring pressures on the NHS.
Commissioning groups across the country have cut back on the number of IVF cycles they fund, with only one in six offering couples the three cycles recommended by the NHS.
Dr Ruth Grabham, medical director at the Bath and North East Somerset CCG, said no decision will be made until its board meets on March 8.
She said: ‘We’re proposing to change our fertility policy so that men need to be a healthy weight in order to get NHS-funded fertility treatment with their partners.
‘I’m a GP and I want to help my patients live healthy lifestyles so they get the best health outcomes possible. We already ask women to be a healthy weight before fertility treatment, and we want to be fair about the way we share out NHS services.’
A spokesman for the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCG pointed to advice from NHS watchdog NICE, which states: ‘Men who have a BMI of 30 or over should be informed that they are likely to have reduced fertility.’
West Cheshire did not respond to a request for comment.