Today the Department of Health and Social Care has laid out plans to equalise access to IVF treatment for lesbians, bisexual women and trans people across England.
IVF for LGBT+ Families
Publishing its Women’s Health Strategy, the Government announced that it would remove barriers to IVF for same-sex female couples. Same-sex female couples will no longer have to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status and gain treatment on the NHS. Instead, NHS treatment for female same-sex couples will start with six cycles of artificial insemination before accessing IVF services if necessary.
Given that IVF availability has been an area of healthcare policy that has sat with local Clinical Commissioning Groups, the strategy also lays out plans for reducing the ‘postcode lottery’ of IVF provision, which has previously left some same-sex couples having to pay up to £25,000 before being able to access IVF on the NHS. This will include greater transparency so that prospective parents can see how their local area performs compared with others.
The decision comes on the back of Stonewall’s long-standing campaign #IVFforAll, to equalise access to IVF treatment. Following the announcement, Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall said: “We are delighted that the UK Government has listened to our call for fair and equal access to IVF treatment… This is a giant step towards a world where LGBTQ+ people have the same opportunity as everyone else to build a loving, thriving family of their own.”
The issue has also been driven forward by fertility equality campaigners Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, who contributed to the LGBT+ Commission interim report, which called for an equalisation of fertility treatments for the LGBT+ community. Commenting on the announcement, Megan and Whitney said: “We hope that this new strategy will level the playing field and achieve fertility equality for all and will be implemented swiftly to ensure that more loving families will be able to begin their journeys into parenthood.”
Today’s announcement brings England closer in line with the more positive landscape in Scotland. NHS Scotland provides six rounds of fully funded intrauterine insemination (IUI), and if this is unsuccessful they will fund three rounds of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). As such, they recommended that NHS England bring its practices in line with NHS Scotland.
Since 2005, people are no longer able to opt for home insemination with sperm from a sperm bank, and artificial insemination must take place in a clinical setting. This has therefore forced some LGBT+ people to pay large amounts of money to access safe, medically screened sperm, or to risk more dangerous routes, often men offering help online ‘free of charge’. Such ‘services’ can be very risky and often involve men preying on women’s vulnerability, as well as the risk that the sperm donor could fight for the rights to the child in the future.
What else is in the strategy?
The government’s first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England comes on the back of a consultation which received almost 100,000 responses from across England. It outlines a series of key commitments to reduce the gender health gap where, while women live on average for longer than men, they spend more of their life in poor health.
The strategy includes several key commitments:
- Mandatory training for medical students on female health conditions
- £10 million investment into mobile breast cancer screening in low-screening areas
- Updated guidance around endometriosis
- The introduction of pregnancy loss certificates for parents who have lost a child before 24 weeks.
Commenting on the publishing of the strategy, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “the publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities, and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.”
Minister for Women’s Health Maria Caulfield said: “Tacking the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep-seated systemic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.”
The announcement marks a key change in the way health systems approach infertility. Infertility will (correctly) no longer be viewed as a wholly medical issue, but also as a social issue, with people rendered infertile by social factors.
Make no mistake about it, this is a huge win for LGBT+ rights in the UK. It breaks down an often-prohibitive barrier for lesbians, bisexual women and trans people who wished to start a family, to lead the life they wished to live.