• Health and social care secretary criticised “postcode inequalities” in care, and said there should be more standardisation
  • Currently, clinical commissioning groups have a statutory power to make decisions over IVF
  • But Matt Hancock says these decisions should be made nationally

Matt Hancock has said it is “absurd” that NHS leaders in some parts of England are able to decide to commission lower levels of IVF, rather than having it determined nationally.

Speaking at a Nuffield Trust event today, the health and social care secretary criticised “postcode inequalities” in care, and said there should be more standardisation.

He said: “Why should three cycles of IVF be allowed in some parts of the country when some other parts offer none?

“A local part of the NHS deciding it’s okay not to offer IVF…it’s absurd, it’s unacceptable in a national system….

“It is not for a CCG to decide whether you should have zero, one, two or three rounds available.

“The idea that a local body that does not have elected legitimacy [such as CCGs] should make what is in effect an allocative decision around different parts of the country [is wrong].”

He added: “[We should] set national standards then leave local areas to do their best.”

Currently, clinical commissioning groups have a statutory power to make decisions over in vitro fertilisation, which can help people with fertility problems have a baby.

It is a common area where CCGs’ commission varying entitlements – normally making fewer cycles available where they want to curb spending. It is believed there have been discussions involving NHS England about the possibility of setting a national commissioning policy on IVF, but no public statements have been made on it.

Mr Hancock did not expand on whether there were any plans to change CCGs’ powers on this.

Other common areas of controversy about commissioning variation include limiting access to surgery based on patients’ weight, or whether they smoke.

Julie Wood, chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said on Twitter that it was currently a role of CCGs to make decisions over IVF access, and indicated any change to that would need to be discussed with CCGs: “Happy to have [discussions] about how best to set national standards within an environment of competing national and local priorities, and a finite budget for each [statutory] CCG to best meet population needs,” she said.

Mr Hancock also spoke about “massive duplication” across non-clinical areas, such as procurement, administration, appointment booking and staff rostering.

He added: “Providers have their own teams and systems for every conceivable non-clinical activity.” Similarly, he did not refer to specific actions that might be taken on it.

He said the NHS should aim to increase public confidence by improving within non-clinical areas such as the tidiness of hospitals and communication from staff.