Belfast Telegraph

Couples 'face IVF discrimination'

Couples struggling to become pregnant in Northern Ireland are being discriminated against as fewer NHS fertility treatments are offered in the region than elsewhere in the UK, the Assembly has been warned.

Only one cycle of IVF is provided to a couple by the local health service, while in Scotland three cycles are available on the NHS, MLAs were told.

In Wales two cycles are offered and many areas in England provide two or three, the chamber heard.

Clinical guidelines established by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) in 2004 recommended that three cycles should be provided, noting that only one in five couple conceives in the first cycle.

MLAs backed a motion in the Assembly calling on Health Minister Edwin Poots to fund three cycles.

The SDLP's Conall McDevitt noted that couples in other European Union nations were also offered more publicly funded fertility treatments.

"This is an issue that colleagues who have been here longer than I will know has exercised this House now for heading on a decade," he said.

"(It's) an issue which in my opinion goes to the heart of equality legislation which affects couples seeking to become parents and who are being discriminated against in this region relative to other parts of the United Kingdom."

He urged the minister to take action. "If we continue not to do so, we will further fall behind the standards of IVF treatment which are provided in other member states of the EU and further fall behind many other parts of the United Kingdom," he said.

The issue was tabled by the Stormont health committee and committee chair Sue Ramsey said each cycle cost couples £4,000 if done privately.

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