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NHS refuses to give IVF to women over 34

In most of England, the NHS is refusing to give IVF treatment to women over 34 because it isn’t “cost-effective”.

What it means: Most people end up having children. But it’s not always easy to conceive a baby (or, indeed, adopt one). Enter modern medicine. Treatments like IVF give millions of wannabe-parents who are single, LGBTQ+ or struggling with fertility issues the chance to have a child of their own.

But IVF doesn’t come cheap: it costs about £5,000 a pop. And most of the time, it doesn’t work: an IVF treatment for a women under 35 ends up with a baby less than a third of the time, and that success rate goes down as the age of the woman goes up (because women become less fertile as they grow older).

This is why lots of NHS clinics in England say they won’t offer IVF treatment to women over 34. According to one in Southampton, they’ve “taken into account the relative cost-effectiveness [of IVF] compared to other treatments that could be funded with the resources we have available”. In plain English, they’re saying they have limited money and they’d rather spend it on treatments that work better.

Is that fair? Perhaps. As heartbreaking as being refused fertility treatment may be, it’s not deadly in the way that, say, refusing to give a life-saving operation would be. And lots of Brits don’t see IVF as a priority for their healthcare system - 78 percent of them think  the NHS shouldn’t pay for fertility treatments. After all, women who want to try IVF can still do so by going to a private clinic and paying out of pocket.

But in practice that means having the option to get IVF will depend on how rich you are, which might seem unfair to people who see having children as one of the most meaningful and important parts of life. Of course, the UK government could put extra money into the NHS to fund more IVF, but that would probably mean it would need to raise taxes and/or spend less money on other things.

Read our explainers on government spending and what taxes should pay for.

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