• Commissioners say they will rapidly review policy on single women IVF
  • The Sunday Times revealed guidance that said single women had a greater burden on society
  • IVF access has become postcode lottery across the UK

South east London commissioners have pledged to carry out a “rapid review” of their policy to deny IVF treatment to single women.

Clinical commissioning groups in south east London currently refuse IVF to single women on the grounds they “exert less control on their children” and “place a greater burden on society in general”. South East London Commissioning Alliance said it would review its treatment access policy after critics called the guidance “demeaning” and “shockingly outdated”.

The alliance includes six CCGs (Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark) covering five acute hospitals and more than two million patients.

Across the NHS, access to IVF treatment has become a postcode lottery, with CCGs adopting different policies and ignoring National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance and ministerial instruction. The guidance states women should be offered IVF if they are under the age of 43 and have been trying to become pregnant for at least two years.

Treatment access guidance for the south east London region said: “Single mothers are generally poorer; they are likely to have greater support needs compared to two-parent couples, thereby placing a greater burden on society in general.

“Aristotle’s principle of equality says treat equals equally, so a couple compared to a couple is equal. A woman or man compared to a couple is not equal, and by attempting to think of them as such has no ground or support.

“A sole woman is unable to bring out the best outcomes for the child.”

In a statement to HSJ, the alliance said commissioners were committed to providing fertility services fairly and consistently within the “limited resources we have available”. It added that while funding for single women was not currently available, “we review and update the treatment access policy on a regular basis and we will prioritise a rapid review of the policy in relation to single women”. 

Asked where the initial guidance had been sourced a spokesman said: “Work to review outcomes of fertility treatment was undertaken in 2011 by colleagues in public health to inform the south east London treatment access policy at that time. The review considered the research literature of the time. Quotes in recent media coverage are not comments made by the CCGs or previous PCTs but were taken from the literature. Whilst the overall treatment access policy has been considered at regular review points, this particular aspect has not, in itself, been formally reviewed recently. We intend to review it as a priority.

They continued: “All patients can request special consideration for a procedure or treatment which falls outside normal contracts and the [treatment access policy], through the south east London individual funding request process. This means that if a single woman is facing exceptional circumstances, she can apply for IVF funding through her GP or the consultant looking after her.

“All GPs and consultants are aware of the IFR.”

The Sunday Times, which first reported the restrictions, said women wanting IVF would instead have to pay thousands of pounds to be seen privately.