Woman, 30, blasts ‘ridiculous’ IVF postcode lottery after being denied treatment on the NHS when she changed to her husband’s GP surgery because the borough was ‘too broke’ to fund it
- Samantha Anderson, 30, and husband Tommy, 31,married in September 2017
- Had tried to conceive for three years before wedding and two months after
- Samantha was advised to switch to husband’s GP in Croydon, South London
- They were told IVF was not offered for free because borough was ‘too broke’
- It was then too late for her to re-register at her old GP in Bromley
- The couple paid £3,600 for private IVF instead of £5,500 on the NHS
- Samantha fell pregnant after one cycle and son Alfie was born in October 2019
A first-time mother who tried unsuccessfully for a baby for three years fell victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ of IVF after she moved to her husband’s GP surgery and was then told the local funding body was ‘too broke’ to offer treatment for free.
Samantha Anderson, 30, from Croydon, South London, spent three years trying to fall pregnant with her husband Tommy, 31, before their wedding in September 2017.
When their efforts failed because of Tommy’s low sperm count, Samantha – who works as a nanny – went to see her original GP in nearby Bromley but was advised to register at the same surgery as her husband in Croydon, three miles away.
But at their first appointment, the couple were told by a doctor that the IVF treatment they needed would not be free because the clinical commissioning group (CCG) – which funds local services – in Croydon was ‘too broke’.
And because Samantha had already registered at the surgery with her Croydon address, she was not able to move back to her old GP in Bromley, even though they would have paid for one cycle of IVF.
Samantha and Tommy, who is a vehicle recovery specialist, were then told IVF treatment through the NHS would cost £5,500 for a single cycle and so they opted to pay £3,600 for treatment privately.
Fortunately, after months of stress and anguish, Samantha fell pregnant in February 2019 after just one IVF cycle with Harley Street clinic abc ivf and her ‘cheeky and boisterous’ son Alfie was born in October last year.
Samantha Andrews, 30, from Croydon, South London, fell victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ of IVF after she moved to her husband’s GP surgery and was told the local funding body was ‘too broke’ to offer fertility treatment for free. Pictured: Samantha and husband Tommy, 31, with their baby son Alfie, who was born in October 2019 after they paid for private IVF treatment
Samantha was advised to move to her husband’s GP, Shirley Medical Centre in Croydon. The couple had struggled to conceive because of Tommy’s low sperm count. IVF on the NHS was set to cost them £5,500 so they opted for cheaper private provider abc ivf. Pictured: Them with Alfie shortly after his birth last October
A map showing the three-mile distance between Samantha’s first and second GP surgeries
However, the mother said it is ‘ridiculous’ that an effective postcode lottery exists, meaning some couples cannot access free IVF treatment at all, while others can get ‘two or three’ cycles before they need to pay.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that three cycles of IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.
But because of financial restrictions, the number of CCGs in England offering three IVF cycles has fallen from 16 per cent (33) to 11.5 per cent (24) in a year. In 2013, the figure was 24 per cent.
Seven areas now have an outright ban on funding IVF; a figure which has more than tripled in five years.
Some families are therefore forced to try to move across the country for treatment, while others travel abroad.
Croydon CCG stopped funding even one cycle of IVF for couples in 2017, unless they had exceptional circumstances.
Although it came too late for Samantha, this decision was reversed in April this year, allowing women up to the age of 42 to access one cycle.
‘Cheeky and boisterous’ Alfie was born in October last year after Samantha’s first cycle of IVF was successful
She first opted to see the doctor two months after her wedding and after three years of trying and failing to get pregnant.
The Bromley GP said Samantha should move to Tommy’s surgery – Shirley Medical Centre – so they could be treated together.
But Samantha said she was never warned by her GP in Bromley – at Trinity Medical Centre, which is now closed – that the Croydon CCG might not offer free treatment.
At the new surgery, which is just three miles from her old one, Samantha said she was told by a doctor that fertility tests would be carried out but that, ‘just so you know we don’t provide IVF for free.’
However, the mother said that she ‘never thought’ IVF would be needed so did not worry about it.
Because the couple, who moved to Kent two weeks ago, had recently signed a six-month tenancy, moving back to Bromley – where one free IVF cycle was offered because it was in a different CCG – would have been very difficult.
The mother said it is ‘ridiculous’ that an effective postcode lottery exists, meaning some couples cannot access free IVF treatment at all, while others can get ‘two or three’ cycles before they need to pay
While her tests revealed she had no fertility problems, Tommy was told he had a low sperm count.
The couple were then referred to a fertility clinic at Croydon University Hospital – which was previously known as Mayday hospital – but had to wait six months for an appointment.
‘The doctor referred us and we had to wait six months and it wasn’t until our first appointment that we were told we had fertility issues,’ she said.
‘We never expected IVF until we got to the clinic.’
‘It was in the same department as the anti-natal clinic and so I was sitting in the same department as pregnant women and I found that quite upsetting,’ she added.
Samantha said she and Tommy then had to wait three months in between appointments for further test results because staff refused to give them out over the phone.
The clinic the couple opted for in December 2018 – abc ivf on London’s Harley Street – provided a cheaper service. One cycle of IVF cost them £3,600
Samantha had two embryos which had been fertilised with Tommy’s sperm implanted in her in February 2019. She had a miscarriage of one of the embryos eight weeks later but there were no complications with the other. Pictured: The couple with Alfie as a newborn
It was then that they were told they needed IVF treatment and it would cost £5,500.
‘We came away and thought “do we want to pay for it in a clinical hospital or a more personal setting?”, That is when we decided to go private,’ she said.
The clinic the couple opted for in December 2018 – abc ivf on London’s Harley Street – provided a cheaper service.
They were told that blood tests which had already been carried out on the NHS could be sent to the clinic but Samantha said Croydon hospital ‘lost’ the results.
‘It would have cost us £500 to get them re-done. I had to call the hospital to find out where they were,’ she said.
‘I couldn’t get through to the manager of the fertility clinic. I made a formal complaint and within 24 hours they found Tommy’s blood test results.
‘It took me two weeks to get them and we had a plan of when I was going to start my cycle.
‘It was really stressful and Mayday did not make it any easier. It just made the decision to go private a lot easier,’ she added.
Samantha said abc’s ‘professionalism’ was what most impressed her.
‘The office wasn’t clinical, it didn’t feel medical. They were trying to save us money,’ she said.
In January 2019, the couple had their first appointment.
The couple got married in September 2017 but had been together for three years before that
‘They showed me how to inject myself. They showed Tommy how do it for me. They included Tommy in the whole process.’
The mother had one injection to stimulate egg production and another to stop her from having her period so that any eggs she produced could be collected.
Out of eight which were collected, seven were fertilised using Tommy’s sperm and five were still growing after five days.
Samantha then had two of them implanted in her and then found out two weeks later after a pregnancy test that both embryos were still growing and so she was pregnant with twins.
‘When we did that pregnancy test and it came back positive we sat there crying. I didn’t feel like I could be that lucky,’ she said.
However, the mother then suffered what she called a ‘bittersweet’ miscarriage of one of the twins after eight weeks.
She initially thought she was no longer pregnant at all but was told there was nothing wrong with the other foetus.
‘When I started bleeding I thought this is over,’ she said.
‘I went to hospital and they were like “have you had two embryos put back” and that is when we realised I was still pregnant.
Speaking of her ‘postcode lottery’ ordeal, she said: ‘I think it is ridiculous. IVF is just not considered important enough’. Pictured: The couple and Alfie during a recent day out
‘It was bittersweet because yes I had a miscarriage but I was still pregnant.’
She said her pregnancy was ‘straightforward’ other than her needing to have a c-section because baby Alfie was breeched – lying bottom-first rather than head-first, as is normal.
But she said the first few months of Alfie’s life were hard.
‘I am constantly worrying whether I am doing the right thing. It has only really been since he got into a routine at about six months that I started to relax and enjoy being a mum.
‘The first six months were really hard.
‘Now it is amazing, he sleeps through the night, he is crawling and he says mum and it is the best feeling in the world.
‘People take for granted being able to fall pregnant. For us it is not a luxury, it is a struggle,’ the mother added
‘Alfie is really boisterous. He is into everything. He is cheeky. He is a very happy baby. The only time he cries is when he is hungry or tired.
‘All his first experiences, when he said Mum and Dad, you can never forget, you will never be able to take them away.’
Speaking of her ‘postcode lottery’ ordeal, she said: ‘I think it is ridiculous. IVF is just not considered important enough.
‘People take for granted being able to fall pregnant. For us it is not a luxury, it is a struggle.
‘Someone else could have six kids walking down the road and you think I can’t have a baby but you’ve got six, how is that fair?
She added that all couples should have access to at least one free cycle.
Praful Nargund, co-founder and managing director of abc ivf, said: ‘abc ivf was developed following ten years of dedicated research to deliver evidence based, ethical and successful treatment at an affordable cost.
Samantha and Tommy at their gender reveal party, when they discovered they were having a boy
‘The cost savings we devised are passed on direct to our patients, and we are proud to be the first and only network of dedicated affordable IVF clinics in the UK.
‘Through a combination of simplified treatment protocols and a streamlined patient journey, supported by digital technology, we are able to offer the most affordable IVF in the UK without compromising our quality of care and success rates.”
‘While we continue to campaign to end the current NHS IVF postcode lottery, we are delighted to be able to help the hundreds of women and couples across the country who have let us know that they wouldn’t have been able to access IVF treatment without the help of abc.
‘We are thrilled to have helped Samantha and her partner and enable them to achieve their dream of parenthood; something so many take for granted.’
Shirley Medical Centre was approached for comment.
A spokesman for the NHS in South West London, which the Croydon CCG is part of, said that a decision was made in April to ‘consistently’ offer IVF to women in the area.
They added that around 200 women in Croydon are expected to benefit within the next year.
HOW DOES IVF WORK?
In-vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has an already-fertilised egg inserted into her womb to become pregnant.
It is used when couples are unable to conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.
Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy should continue as normal.
The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or those from donors.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.
People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.
The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are about 29 per cent, with the chance of a successful cycle reducing as they age.
Around eight million babies are thought to have been born due to IVF since the first ever case, British woman Louise Brown, was born in 1978.
Chances of success
The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it’s known).
Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.
IVF isn’t usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.
Between 2014 and 2016 the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:
29 per cent for women under 35
23 per cent for women aged 35 to 37
15 per cent for women aged 38 to 39
9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42
3 per cent for women aged 43 to 44
2 per cent for women aged over 44
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