A primary care trust in Cheshire has stopped funding in vitro fertilisation services in a cost cutting move that challenges national guidance.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines, which are backed by the government, state up to three full cycles of IVF should be made available on the NHS in England and Wales to eligible patients.

However, NHS Warrington has said it will no longer be routinely offering the service. Patients already in the system will be entitled to one round of IVF or one further round if they have already undergone the procedure. The suspension will be reviewed in July 2011.

The PCT said it will still consider fresh referrals for IVF only where GPs think there is an “exceptional clinical need”.

Andrew Davies, chair of the PCT’s clinical leadership team, said the suspension was necessary to maintain the PCT’s “financial stability”.

The move is part of a review of a number of health services to assess whether they match locally agreed health priorities and offer the best use of NHS resources, Dr Davies said.

British Fertility Society chair Tony Rutherford described the move as disappointing.

He said: “This is a retrograde step, out of keeping with all messages coming from central government, and shows scant regard for the needs of one in six couples who suffer infertility.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the government would “encourage all commissioners to take account of the NICE guidelines on infertility treatment and recognise the significant distress and impact that infertility can have on individuals”.

NHS Warrington is not the first PCT to target IVF for cost cutting reasons. NHS North Staffordshire has not offered IVF since 2006.