August 30, 2006

Experts advise no free IVF for obese women in UK

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Severely overweight women should be
denied access to free fertility treatment in England and Wales
and obese women must lose weight before being offered the
chance to try IVF, experts said on Wednesday.

They also said in a report that no woman over the age of 40
should be allowed to start National Health Service-funded
fertility treatment, and that single women and same sex couples
should be offered the same access as heterosexual couples.

The British Fertility Society's recommendations, which
suggest women with a body mass index of 36 or more should be
denied IVF treatment on the NHS, go further than current NHS
guidelines which say overweight women should be warned of the
health risks but do not impose a ban on treatment.

The BFS said women with a body mass index of 29 or more
should be advised to undergo a programme of diet and exercise
before being allowed IVF treatment.

"Obese women are less likely to get pregnant and more
likely to encounter health problems. It makes sense to address
obesity before seeking fertility treatment," Richard Kennedy of
the BFS told the BBC.

"The NHS is already stopping women who are obese from
having fertility treatment," he added.

"What we are saying is that they should be less stringent
and more consistent with how they apply this."

The BFS said its recommendations were aimed at tackling
what it said was a wide disparity in the social criteria used
by different NHS trusts to decide whether treatment should be

It said single women, lesbian couples and people who
already have children from a previous relationship should not
be excluded from NHS treatment.

"Continued inequality of access to treatment is
unacceptable in a state-funded health service and the source of
considerable distress to a great number of people with
fertility problems," Dr Mark Hamilton, chairman of the BFS,
said in a statement.

A Department of Health spokesman said it recognized there
were variations in IVF provision but that "local policies
should reflect local health needs and priorities."

He said the government was working with the Infertility
Network UK on engaging with healthcare trusts "to ensure that
fertility patients' voices are heard when decisions about
service provision are made."

The British Fertility Society produced its report after
surveying 64 licensed fertility clinics in England and Wales
during the summer of 2005. Full results of the survey will be
published in the Human Fertility journal later this month.