Once upon a time, a young woman from Oxfordshire experienced premature ovarian failure at the age of 24 and thought she could never have children. She told her partner that it might be best for them to part, but he pledged his undying love for her and together, they went on a quest for a solution. They appealed to the local PCT for help, but were turned away on the basis of their age. When they thought all hope was lost, not one, but two, heroes came along to offer them a solution. Claire's sister offered to donate her eggs to the couple and a private hospital offered to perform the IVF procedure for free. The Cousins now have 2 children. The end.
Okay, so that's the fairy tale, with a damsel in distress, a villain, a heroine and the knight in shining armour, but the real story isn't far off. Claire Cousins tried to conceive for 2 years before being diagnosed with premature ovarian failure in 2009. She was told that the only way that she could conceive would be with donor eggs and IVF, however, when she and her husband Gary applied for the treatment through their local Primary Care Trust in Oxfordshire, they were turned down. While the general NHS guidelines permit funding of IVF for women between the ages of 23 and 39, Oxfordshire PCT restricted funding to those between the ages of 35 and 38 on the grounds of their budget. Despite the support of their GP and local MP, their appeals were turned down. The PCT later decided to expand its offering to women from the age of 30, but this still did not help the Cousins. They didn't have the £5,500 it would have cost to pay for the treatment privately.
Nearly three years on, and the Cousins are now a family of four. After some publicity, a private hospital stepped in and offered Claire the fertility treatment for free. Claire and Gary were able to have two children with the use of her sister's donated eggs.
This is just one case that demonstrates the uneven-handedness with which NHS funds are doled out by the various PCTs in the postcode lottery. While the PCTs must use some criteria in their decision-making, shouldn't there be space for them to apply them on an individual basis and make exceptions? Using strict criteria such as a specific age range does not always work, as demonstrated by the Cousins' case. Isn't it just like bureaucrats to tell a 24 year old that she is too young for IVF on the NHS, when she has already hit menopause and has no hope of having children without IVF? (Most women will go through menopause after the age of 45.) This wasn't about a lifestyle choice or misuse of funds, but of necessity. The system and those who run it are merely made to look foolish by these cases of thoughtless application of rules.