Couple trying to conceive will have greater access to fertility treatments as the number of NHS-funded IVF cycles is set to rise from two to three.
Scotland will become the only UK nation to offer more than two cycles of IVF to women under 40, as well as extending access for the first time to couples who have children from a previous relationship.
The changes to allow the treatment for couples who have a child living in their home could come in from September, while the Scottish Government will enter talks with health boards about allowing three cycles of IVF from April. Ministers accepted a raft of recommendations yesterday from the National Infertility Group.
One in seven couples have difficulty conceiving, with fertility treatments being responsible for around 2 per cent of UK births.
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: “Over the last four years we have invested around £18 million to reduce IVF waiting times and improve the outcomes for patients undergoing this treatment.
“Scotland already leads the way on IVF access and rights in UK, and these changes will ensure Scotland’s provision is a fair and generous as possible.”
The Scottish Government accepted all the recommendations from the National Fertility Group except one, as they also pledged to allow women aged between 40 and 42 to remain eligible. Current guidelines allow women in this age group can have one cycle of IVF if they meet certain criteria, which prohibit smokers, heavy drinkers and the obese from being eligible.
Fertility experts warned that funding for the changes, which could cost around £2.5 million per year, must be sustainable as around 40 per cent of IVF treatment bill is funded by the Scottish Government in the form of top-up payments to individual NHS boards.
Ian Crichton, chairman of the National Infertility Group, said: “In these times of austerity, it is clearly critical that a strategic decision is made on the future funding level of the service to ensure sustainability prior to any other improvements being introduced.”
Campaigners hailed the move, but raised concerns over the “gulf” between treatment options in Scotland and England.
Susan Seenan, co-chairwoman of campaign group Fertility Fairness, said: “Infertility is a disease and access to treatment should be equitable and based on medical need, rather than postcode or arbitrary criteria … sadly, the situation here stands in stark contrast to the rest of the UK, in particular in England.”
The changes must help to tackle inconsistencies in care between health boards, said Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs.
He said: “It was unacceptable, and upsetting to many couples, that previously a postcode lottery existed where some health boards offered couples three cycles but many only offered two.
“It will be important for the Scottish Government to monitor the provision of IVF services across the country carefully to ensure that there is a genuine equity of provision.”