FINANCE: A cash strapped clinical commissioning group has proposed significantly restricting access to fertility services to help halt its fall even further into the red.

Mid Essex CCG is considering limiting specialist fertility services to HIV positive men and cancer patients.

The CCG expects deficits to grow from £9.1m last year to £15.7m in 2014-15, even if it hits a £8m savings target. It estimates the proposed restriction could save £550,000 a year.

While the CCG’s public consultation includes a “no change” option and one offering a single cycle of IVF, it favours the heaviest restriction, according to a consultation document. This “preferred option” would offer “the maximum potential savings every year, and the change in policy could be implemented immediately”.

“There was a general agreement among CCG member practices that other types of healthcare should take priority over fertility services in any spending decisions,” it said.

The document added that the policy would be renewed annually, and “further changes could be applied, including a return to wider access to specialist fertility services, if this was considered to be affordable”.

The CCG is “currently receiving less than [its] assessed funding requirement”, according to the papers.

While guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends women should be offered three cycles of IVF, funding decisions are made by local commissioners. This has prompted concern about the “variability” of access to services across the country. The CCG currently offers up to three IVF cycles and acknowledged that the changed policy would be “quite a long way short” of meeting national guidance.

Medical director Donald McGeachy told HSJ: “In Mid Essex we have to manage a complex set of circumstances that are currently pushing our spending over the limits of our funding allocation. It’s important that we take some difficult decisions now to secure the financial position for future healthcare.”

He stressed that the CCG “need[ed] to make immediate short term savings to try and get back towards a sustainable financial position”.

“We are consulting people about every aspect of our healthcare over the coming weeks, not just fertility services,” he said.