I read the recent article in the Guardian entitled: ‘How IVF became a licence to print money’ and thought back to when I first embarked on IVF more than five years ago.
The article stated that only 41% of UK IVF treatment cycles are funded by the NHS, and that a recent report by healthcare researcher LaingBuisson said the UK fertility market was worth £320m in 2016, with private investors increasingly interested in the sector.
Of course they’re interested in it – because, as I slowly realised, IVF really is a money-making gravy train.
My journey began back in 2009 when I got married and stopped taking the contraceptive pill. The months passed – but I didn’t become pregnant.
I was only 29 when my husband and I started trying for a baby (young in fertility terms). After a couple years of failing to conceive, (while undergoing various NHS tests, drugs, and self-funded treatments such as reflexology, acupuncture, yoga, and pretty much anything else that might help), we were deemed to fit the criteria for NHS-funded treatment.
As far as I understand it (and I’m really no expert on the matter), NHS trusts have different policies.
At the time we lived in Hammersmith and Fulham in London, where the criteria for eligibility was that we were both under 40, neither I nor my husband already had any children, we had been trying to conceive naturally for a specified amount of time, and we weren’t overweight and didn’t smoke. (I also had mildly polycystic ovaries, although I’m not sure if that was a factor in whether or not we got funding.)
We were granted one round of IVF on the NHS, which we had at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London.
Our happiness was shortlived when I miscarried at around seven weeks
Fortunately, we didn’t have to pay for the initial consultations, the copious amounts of medication, the frequent hospital appointments, or the treatment itself – saving ourselves over £5,000.
And, thankfully, it worked first time – our son was born in December 2012. In hindsight, I’m well aware our journey was short, and we were extremely lucky it was free.
Fast forward two years though and, although we counted ourselves incredibly lucky to have our son, I longed to give him a sibling – for his benefit and ours.
We started trying, and I had to pinch myself when I fell pregnant naturally within a couple of months. But our happiness was shortlived when I miscarried at around seven weeks; heartbroken, we tried again.
Again, I became pregnant but lost the baby within a matter of weeks. While I knew it was kinder that the miscarriage happened early, it didn’t make it any less devastating.
It was at that point we made the decision to try IVF again. In the haze of desperation, it seemed logical. Our son had been conceived that way, whereas the natural route had yielded nothing but heartache and disappointment.
So we paid about £3,300 from our savings to fund another round at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Yes, it was a lot of money – but I would have sacrificed any number of holidays or fancy cars to satisfy my insatiable desire to complete our family.
The costs didn’t stop there, though. While I can’t remember exactly (although I’m sure I’ve still got all the paperwork somewhere), my point is that they went up, and up, and up.
That one cycle of IVF had cost more than £5,000
There was the initial consultation with a doctor (which as far as I recall didn’t give us much change from £300), medication (lots of it), and when they offered an endometrial scratch for another couple of hundred pounds, I was so desperate for it to work that we said yes (regardless of the cost or how much it would actually increase our chances).
And soon, that one cycle of IVF had cost over £5,000. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but admiration for the amazing doctors and nurses who literally create lives, but it’s still a hell of a lot of money.
When it failed, we were in the process of moving to Oxfordshire and so wasted no time embarking on another cycle at a local clinic.
I can still remember the utter frustration when we arrived for our first consultation (cost – £200, upfront) with a doctor who clearly hadn’t even read our notes.
But by then we were well and truly on the infertility treadmill, too determined to have another child to worry about the money we were pouring away. With the same reasoning as before, I really would have sacrificed anything material to have another child.
The cost was virtually the same, and we drained more money from our savings to pay for extras (such as £200 for embryo glue, regardless of whether the evidence showed it would increase our chances significantly or not).
When that cycle failed too, I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge we were very fortunate to have one healthy child.
But with more than £10,000 having already gone down the drain, the obvious question hung in the air – could we afford another try? And, if so, at what point would we stop?
Because unless you’ve experienced the pain and disappointment of infertility or miscarriage, it’s hard to understand just how it consumes you, takes over your life. You see it as a personal failure, and become even more determined to achieve your goal.
No matter what the cost.
So when I read the article in the Guardian this week by Fay Schopen, who flagged up that while treatment prices can be advertised as low as £3,500, in reality with the drugs and add-ons it’s more like £7,000-plus, I wasn’t surprised.
Not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for my boys. I know from experience that fertility treatment really does seem like a ‘licence to print money’, just as the article says. I also know the determination to complete my family meant I would have spent all the money we had, and more.
But surely it shouldn’t be that way? Surely it shouldn’t be a money-making industry with companies and investors profiting so much?
While I can’t profess to understand the profit margins of all of these fertility treatment bolt-ons, never mind which are worth shelling out for and which aren’t, I just hope the industry doesn’t continue to spiral into a costlier and costlier money-making machine, taking advantage of couples like me and my husband whose desperation really would drive them to give all they have for the hope of a family.