Leaders: Overhaul to IVF access a fair and just step

Without public funding, IVF would only be an option for the well-off. Picture: Getty Images
Without public funding, IVF would only be an option for the well-off. Picture: Getty Images
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More people will have a chance to conceive – but a decision that is morally right must also be shown to be financially viable

Nature’s cruelty can manifest itself in myriad ways, but of all of its ruinous influences, few are as unfair as infertility. It is one of life’s great inequities that those who wish to have a child find themselves denied the chance to do so. For many people, starting a family and raising a new generation cuts right to the heart of our existence.

It ought to be a choice open to all of us. To be denied it by our own bodies can be a devastating realisation. No matter how happy someone might be in the rest of their life, the newfound knowledge that they or their partner cannot conceive naturally can take a heavy toll on their mental health. Relationships that seemed to be forged out of steel suddenly buckle under the strain and stress. Many do not survive the experience. Regrettably, it remains a persistent taboo, but it is distressingly commonplace.

For those who muster the determination and emotional strength to carry on in the hope of finding a solution through IVF treatment, fairness can remain elusive.

Without public funding, IVF would only be an option for the well-off. The costs vary significantly, but on average, one cycle of treatment may cost £5,000 or more. Most women typically see success rates of 20-35 per cent per cycle, but the likelihood of getting pregnant decreases with each successive round, while the cost increases.

For many, the quest to have a child sees them amass significant levels of debt, facing increasingly difficult dilemmas over whether to press ahead with one more cycle in the hope that nature’s constraints might be overcome.

Straitened NHS budgets mean that the question of how much help the public purse should offer those in need is no less vexed. It is a painful reality that there has to be a cut-off point to the level of assistance that is provided, but the Scottish Government’s announcement yesterday that it is to increase the number of cycles women can have from two to three will be cheering news to prospective families who otherwise might endure heartbreak.

The changes, the government says, will widen access to fertility treatment to make it the “fairest and most generous in the UK”.

The revision goes even further, meaning that for the first time, couples who have children from a previous relationship will be able to have IVF treatment on the NHS. This is the right move. Why should a person be penalised for falling in love with someone who has a child from another relationship? It is also an unhealthy scenario for the existing child, who will feel guilty that he or she stands in the way of their parents having a child.

With a few carefully considered decisions, the entire system is now more just, yet the cost of such a progressive measure will come at a price. The NHS is already fiscally crippled and there will be a body of opinion that says other issues should take priority. The Scottish Government will have to make headway in those other areas if it wants to make a success of this latest venture. It is morally right but it must also be financially justifiable.

Brown’s return shows up successors

With just over a week to go until the EU referendum, the ­re-emergence of Gordon Brown speaks volumes about how the Remain campaign and its leaders are struggling to maintain momentum.

There is a considerable irony in Mr Brown riding to the rescue and making the case for Britain to take a lead in Europe, rather than exiting the stage. This is the same politician who could not get elected as prime minister, took endless flak during his time in Downing Street, and when the time came, was more or less told to sling his hook. He has not been overly missed ever since.

For us in Scotland, there is also a familiarity to proceedings. Two years ago, Mr Brown led a similar rallying call during the referendum on Scottish independence. Rightly or wrongly, he is credited with exerting a considerable influence over the country’s decision to vote No. Even if history has overstated his role, it seems reasonable to accept that he was the campaign’s most effective performer when it mattered.

The fact he is being asked to do the same again says a great deal about Prime Minister David Cameron, and Jeremy Corbyn. Very little of it is positive. We do not know if the suggestion that Mr Cameron moved to “wheel out Gordon” is true, but his return to the political frontline suggests those in charge acknowledge his value. Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, is fading into anonymity, with the Labour leader yet to make a significant contribution.

Time will tell if Mr Brown can do it again, but the fact he is again to the fore of the debate further underlines how ineffective and unconvincing the two main party leaders have been. The clock must be ticking for both of them.