NHS fertility treatment
When it comes to paying for fertility treatment in the UK, you may be eligible for funding from the NHS, or you can pay for your own treatment, i.e. be a private patient.
NHS funding can cover the costs of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection. The number of cycles (rounds of treatment) available varies from region to region across the UK.
The treatment can take place at your local hospital or, sometimes, at a private clinic if they have a contract with your local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) or Health Board.
NHS funding: the details
Accessing funding - If you are hoping to have fertility treatment on the NHS you will need a referral from your GP.
To get a referral you will have to meet certain criteria set out by various governing bodies in the UK.
Waiting lists - If you are eligible for NHS funding, you may have to wait for treatment as NHS waiting list times can vary.
Many NHS clinics in England now work to an ‘eighteen week policy’ which means that you should be ready to start fertility treatment within eighteen weeks of your GP referring you to the fertility clinic.
Prescription costs - If you are eligible for NHS funded treatment, you will still have to pay normal prescription charges for your fertility drugs (unless you are exempt from paying prescription charges).
Funding: am I eligible?
The different countries that make up the UK have different funding criteria for fertility treatment on the NHS:
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published a guideline on fertility treatment - it covers what levels of funding should be available throughout England and Wales.
The NICE guideline states that up to three cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) should be available to:
- women aged 23 - 39
- those who have an identifiable cause of infertility such as an absence of sperm, or blocked fallopian tubes
- those who have had more than three years of fertility problems.
Implementation of these guidelines is still occurring across England meaning the number of fertility treatment cycles you can receive on the NHS varies from region to region.
Decision making on the amount of funding is made at a local level by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). Some CCGs in England fund one cycle, some two, and others the full three cycles. There are a few CCGs who do not fund IVF or ICSI at all.
The Department of Health has said that all CCGs, in the long term, should provide the full three cycles of IVF as set out in the NICE guidelines.
Access to funding
CCGs across England have different eligibility criteria for access to funding. These can include:
- limits on a patient’s BMI (Body Mass Index - a measurement of obesity)
- whether or not the patient already has children
- the number of previous fertility treatment cycles taken.
In order to know whether you are able to access NHS funding in England speak to your GP, or contact your local CCG.
You can find contact details for your local CCG in your local telephone directory, by visiting your local council’s website or by using the details obtained through the National Infertility Awareness Campaign (NIAC).
Funding in Wales
Following the publication of the NICE guideline on fertility treatment, the Welsh Assembly called for all eligible couples to receive access to one cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) on the NHS.
Eligibility for access to NHS funding was decided by the Welsh Assembly, in partnership with Health Commission Wales - the body responsible for commissioning specialised services, such as those for assisted conception.
The criteria were largely in line with the recommendations of the NICE guideline:
Access to funding
In order to know whether you are able to access NHS funding in Wales contact your local health board or speak to your GP.
The Expert Advisory Group on Infertility in Scotland (EAGISS) published a guideline on the care of infertile couples in February 2000.
The EAGISS report outlines eligibility criteria for fertility treatment. It stated that those who were eligible should receive a maximum of three cycles of treatment:
- Two cycles would consist of fresh (non frozen) cycles comprising ovarian stimulation, egg recovery and transfer of fresh embryos.
- If frozen embryos were available to patients, then they would be used in the third cycle. Patients who do not have frozen embryos available would be entitled to a third fresh cycle.
Access to funding
The eligibility criteria for fertility treatment in Scotland includes:
- a female age limit of 39 years
- the patient must not already have a child living at home
- the patient must have had less that three previous funded embryo transfers.
More information can be found at:
In 2006, Health Minister Paul Goggins announced changes to the criteria that allow couples to access publicly funded fertility services in Northern Ireland.
The main changes included:
- offering all qualifying couples one cycle of publicly funded treatment
- an increase in the maximum age limit for women from 37 to 39
- allowing couples with children to be able to access funding.
For more information on funding in Northern Ireland see:
Page last updated: 04 August 2014