Nicosia looks nice. The clinic website shows pictures of boats bobbing on blue-green Cypriot waters. Spain feels more familiar, but the Ukraine is cheaper. Or what about Mexico, where you can choose whether to have a boy or a girl?
The fertility business is global and booming. As the NHS cuts back on free treatment for the childless, lumping IVF with tattoo removal as an act of kindness rather than treatment for a disease, the competitive prices of private clinics overseas compared with their UK rivals will look ever more tempting. This weekend a number of them will be touting for business at the Fertility Show, now in its second year, at London’s Olympia.
Their websites are in English, their blandishments are soothing and the success rates they advertise are eye-popping to those unversed in the complexities of such data. You can get an instant email quote (in sterling) – I was offered IVF using donor eggs (difficult to obtain in the UK) in Kiev for £5,277, in Nicosia for £3,945 (including six days in a hotel and airport transfer) and in Mexico for £4,316 – or £5,091 if I wanted to choose the sex of my child. The UK has some of the best and safest IVF clinics in the world. It is the home of the pioneers – Bob Edwards, responsible for the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, recently won a Nobel prize, putting reproductive medicine firmly in the category of humane treatments that have advanced us as a species. But the government’s yearning towards the free market and its dislike of red tape are threatening the quango which keeps standards high and clinics safe. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), this week celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Act that set it up, is down for abolition. Its various roles are to be picked apart and handed to other bodies.
These are rocky times for the unhappy childless. North Yorkshire and York, Bury, South West Essex and West Kent have already cut back or suspended NHS fertility treatment. IVF, in a cash-strapped health service, is one of the first things to go. Funders know that desperate people will do it anyway. Houses will be re-mortgaged.
“Couples know they can’t wait for the recession to be over,” says Clare Lewis-Jones, chief executive of Infertility Network. “There won’t be as much NHS IVF, but patients will find the money at least for one cycle. They have had to in the past and they will do it again.”
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