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Difficulty conceiving is a problem that affects around one in seven couples in the UK. According to NHS Choices, more than 8 out of 10 couples, where the woman is under 40, will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex. For couples who have been trying to conceive for more than 3 years without success, the likelihood of getting pregnant naturally within the next year is 1 in 4, or less.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that couples who have been unsuccessful in conceiving after two years should be offered three full cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for women under 40, and one cycle for women between 40 and 42. However, these are guidelines, and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) are not legally required to implement them.

There is variation between ICBs in England in terms of what fertility treatments are routinely funded. The Government have published data taken from ICB commissioning policies which indicates how many IVF cycles are funded by the NHS in each area of England: NHS-funded in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in England (August 2023).

There is variation between the devolved administrations regarding funding for IVF:

  • In Scotland, eligible women under 40 are entitled to three cycles; eligible women aged between 40 and 42 are entitled to one cycle.
  • In Wales, all Health Boards have the same access and eligibility criteria. Eligible women under 40 are entitled to two cycles of IVF; women aged between 40 and 42 are entitled to one cycle.
  • In Northern Ireland, eligiblewomen under 42 are currently entitled to one cycle. The Executive has committed to providing three funded cycles of IVF, but that has not yet been implemented; the Executive have said that the required funding is not yet in place.

NHS funding for IVF cycles varies considerably across the UK. In 2021, Scotland had the highest rate of NHS-funded IVF cycles at 58% compared to 30% in Wales and 24% in England. Figures for Northern Ireland were not available.

NHS-funded IVF cycles in England decreased from 19,634 in 2019 to 16,335 in 2021 (-17%). In Wales, they decreased from 1,094 to 704 over the same period (-36%). There was also a slight decrease (-1%) in Scotland.

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