Health Minister Robin Swann marked National Fertility Awareness Week by thanking staff at the Regional Fertility Centre (RFC) in Belfast for their work to restore and rebuild services impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Minister also heard about ongoing plans to implement the Executive’s New Decade, New Approach commitment to providing up to three publicly-funded cycles of IVF treatment for all eligible people.
Speaking with staff and patient representatives at the RFC, the Minister said: “Today I have seen first-hand the commitment of all the staff here to helping as many people as possible to have a baby. The pandemic has brought additional challenges, due to social distancing and staff helping other parts of the health service, but I want to commend all at the RFC for their tireless work and dedication to resuming and rebuilding these services. This will bring waiting lists back to pre-pandemic levels by March 2022 – a vital starting point as we prepare to increase IVF provision in the future.
“I know that success in fertility treatment is sadly not a guarantee, and that many cycles fail. That is why in 2019 I pushed for a shared Executive commitment in New Decade, New Approach to increasing the number of cycles we fund for people to have a baby.”
Guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends up to 3 cycles of treatment for eligible women. Although this guideline was endorsed by the Department of Health in 2017, it has not been possible to implement this standard due to a lack of recurrent funding and other capacity constraints. A revised bid by the Department for recurrent funding to deliver increased cycles awaits the outcome of the ongoing UK Government spending review.
The Minister continued: “This is a shared Executive commitment and I will be working with my Ministerial colleagues to ensure that funding is prioritised as part of the current Spending Review, following the Chancellor’s budget announcement last week. I know that there are many people who are waiting to find out when IVF provision will be increased. I want to assure them that planning is underway to ensure that once waiting lists are stable and funding is secured, all of the infrastructure, procedures and staff are in place to deliver these additional cycles sustainably.
“This is not as simple or straightforward as it may appear, as a number of challenges need to be addressed to increase our current capacity, including improving the current accommodation to ensure it is fit for purpose for the future. Therefore, in the interim, it is envisaged that some of the additional provision may be phased in through partnership with the independent sector. Planning for this is ongoing, and I hope to be in a position to provide a further update and roadmap early in the New Year.
“Officials from my Department will continue to work closely with the RFC and health commissioners, as well as representatives from charity organisations which offer support to those suffering with infertility, to progress plans in the months ahead. We know that time is so important and we are grateful for the continued patience being shown to the RFC staff as we work through these challenges together.”