Stop smoking or the IVF treatment gets it

The Observer newspaper today reports that childless women, and in some cases their partners, too, are being asked to stop smoking before they can be considered for fertility treatment.

A Department of Health survey released to Labour MP Sally Keeble shows that, despite official recommendations that all infertile couples should get three cycles of treatment free, clinics are increasingly making free IVF treatment conditional on not smoking.

Tobacco use is listed as a ‘non-clinical access criteria’ in the survey – in other words it’s not a medical requirement for treatment to work. Other lifestyle choices known to reduce fertility, such as drinking more than one or two units of alcohol a week, are not reasons for refusing treatment.

A spokeswoman for Infertility UK, which represents patients, said: "It’s another way of rationing treatment. PCTs are looking at different ways to cut down the amount of treatment they give people."

In the light of the recent news about such things as the ban on co-payments (topping-up one’s NHS treatment with private care) for palliative drugs by cancer patients, and the denial of access to medication and surgery for a transsexual woman in Nottinghamshire – one can only wonder why these cutbacks are suddenly considered necessary, apparently across the board. Is the NHS really so comprehensively underfunded – and if so, where are our taxes going?

(Cross-posted at bird of paradox)