IVF patients are being pushed to seek out treatment abroad due to unaffordable prices at home, compounded by NHS red tape and the cost of living crisis.
Foreign clinics have reported an influx of British patients. One IVF specialist in Barbados recorded a 25pc increase in the number of patients coming from the UK this year, while IVFLife, a clinic in Spain, also reported seeing an increased number of British patients.
CARE Fertility, a clinic, estimated that IVF treatment in the UK costs between £5,000 and £8,000, while prices in Bulgaria are as low as £3,200, according to comparison website Fertility Treatment Abroad.
Would-be parents face a postcode lottery to get IVF treatment on the NHS, depending on where they live and other factors such as how many cycles they have been through. Those who already have a child, or whose partner has one, often find themselves barred from NHS services. For these people, high prices combined with their savings being crunched by inflation have pushed them to look abroad.
Ralph Hosford, of Barbados Fertility Centre, said the spike in British “IVF tourists” was unusual, as the UK is typically not a large market. “We are a cheaper option than the UK,” he said. “Our prices have been fixed for the last few years and with direct flights from many UK cities, we are a very attractive option.”
Patients seeking treatment abroad can pay for an online consultation with a foreign clinic, and then obtain the necessary blood tests domestically before flying out for a cycle.
‘Costs in Spain and Greece are a third of the UK’
Magdelena Czerwinska, 44, said she was considering going abroad for IVF in order to save money. Ms Czerwinska, a child-minder from north London, has been trying to secure IVF treatment for the last four years. She has had three miscarriages trying to conceive naturally with her partner Michael Krupa, 33.
Ms Czerwinska is not eligible for IVF on the NHS as she already has a child from a previous relationship. She has been crowdfunding for private treatment, which she said could cost as much as £10,000.
The cost of living crisis has made the process more difficult, prompting the couple to set their sights on cheaper clinics overseas.
“We know people who went to Spain and Greece where the costs are a third of what they are here,” Ms Czerwinska said. “Here it’s around £10,000, between all the blood tests and additional support. I’ve been told that I might need egg sharing at my age. I’m fit and healthy – and my tests are all good – but I’m 44. Time is ticking.”
‘We’re struggling to work out how to pay’
Natasha Kendall has been trying for a baby for years. After two miscarriages from natural pregnancies, she was given one cycle of IVF on the NHS. In Exeter, where Ms Kendall lives, one cycle is all she is entitled to.
Ms Kendall, 33, who works for the NHS, and her partner Andy Whedon, 35, were left with no choice but to turn to private fertility treatment, which she said cost more than £5,000 between consultations, medication, and the cycle itself. This also ended in a miscarriage – and the couple is gearing up for another attempt.
“We want to keep trying but it’s about finding that money,” Ms Kendall said. “It will take a few months to get the funds together. Thankfully we were able to freeze an embryo from the last cycle but if this one doesn’t work it’ll be another £6,000.”
Praful Nargund, of the ABC IVF clinic, said the regional disparity was due to flaws in the current NHS funding model for IVF.
“The current model means each individual clinical commissioning group determines the level of support they provide to women and couples in need of fertility treatment,” he explained. “Some CCGs provide the recommended three cycles of treatment, while others provide only one cycle, or none at all.”
The regional disparity forced patients like Ms Kendall to seek expensive private treatment, meaning families were being “priced out of becoming parents by virtue of where they live”, added Mr Nargund.
Women seeking IVF told The Telegraph the costs typically reach £10,000, with no guarantee of success. Some clinics operate a “payback” system whereby patients only pay if they are successful, however these can charge as much as £20,000.
With soaring inflation, fuel prices and energy bills, those such as Ms Kendall are finding the prospect of affording further cycles increasingly difficult. She added that she and her partner have already burned through some of their inheritance to afford treatment and are close to debt.
Many are turning to loans and credit cards to finance the treatment, in part because couples need the money quickly to have the treatment as soon as possible.
“With the cost of living increasing, we are struggling to work out how we will pay for our next cycle,” she said. “The increase in the price of petrol has already put a massive strain on our finances. We will likely have to take a loan out for another cycle.
“We’re saying no to a lot of life events. We haven’t been abroad since 2018 and we’re not doing normal things, like going out for dinner at the weekend.”
ABC IVF has called on the Government to impose a price cap on how much the NHS can be charged for providing IVF. Mr Nargrund said: “We believe that with the right will, three cycles of NHS-funded IVF could be offered across the country, without busting the current budgets.”
‘Our savings have been depleted’
Lorna Watkins, 31, from south Wales, has already spent more than £30,000 on IVF treatment, depleting her savings. She and her husband are now living “paycheck to paycheck”, she said.
“If this round is unsuccessful we will simply not be able to afford another,” Ms Watkins added. “The savings we worked so hard to get have gone and we are no closer to having the family we so desperately want.”
IVF treatment is often an emotionally taxing process. Gwenda Burns, of charity Fertility Network UK, said 90pc of people going through fertility treatment are depressed, while 42pc have reported feeling suicidal.
“Fertility treatment should be properly funded. It is a disease as deserving of NHS help as any other clinical condition,” she said.
“If it is not, this lack of help combined with the current cost of living crisis will mean some people are denied the chance of becoming parents. This is a sad legacy for the country that pioneered IVF.”