In its new ‘Women’s Health Strategy for England,’ published July 20, the UK government has announced that National Health Service (NHS) fertility treatment funding will no longer discriminate against same-sex assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) couples.
Up until now, the NHS required certain conditions to be met by any couple seeking fertility treatments before they can access fertility care through the NHS, as per National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommendations.
NHS requirements included the demand that couples try to get pregnant through unprotected sex for at least two years, or go through at least six rounds of intrauterine insemination.
As the free first option naturally could not apply to those in same-sex AFAB couples, queer families were forced to pursue half a dozen rounds of intrauterine insemination before receiving assistance from the NHS. According to Pink News, these six rounds could cost up to £25,000.
The NHS requirements for fertility treatments created an immense financial burden on same-sex AFAB couples who wanted biological children, a burden which cisgender heterosexual couples could fairly easily avoid.
The new Women’s Health Strategy, created and published by the Department of Health and Social Care, eliminated this disparity.
“There will no longer be a requirement for [AFAB same-sex couples] to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status,” a Department release read. “NHS treatment for female same-sex couples will start with six cycles of artificial insemination, prior to accessing IVF services, if necessary.”
The Strategy also committed to “improv[ing] transparency on provision and availability of IVF so prospective parents can see how their local area performs to tackle the ‘postcode lottery’ in access to IVF treatment,” referencing the manner in which funding and timely availability of fertility treatments differs according to location.
Beyond the realm of fertility, the Women’s Health Strategy outlined a variety of other measures the UK means to take to improve women’s health and close the gender health gap. Some of these other initiatives include investing £10 million in breast screening services, formally recognising pregnancy loss, and improving endometriosis services.
“The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country,” Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said.
The Strategy is the first of its kind in England and addresses topics that the British public identified in a ‘Call for Evidence’ issued by the Department in March 2021. The Call for Evidence asked for women to share their experiences and thoughts about women’s health services in England, so as to “inform the priorities, content and actions within the Women’s Health Strategy.”
Individuals seeking to generally share their thoughts could respond to a public survey, and those people or organisations specialising in women’s health were offered the opportunity to send in a written submission. Over the 14 weeks the Call for Evidence ran, the Department of Health and Social Care received nearly 100,000 survey responses, and over 400 written submissions.
“Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and post-natal support” was the second most chosen topic respondents wanted to see included in the Strategy, and those ages 30-39 chose it above all else, indicating its importance in considerations of gendered health.
Pink News noted that despite this victory in the realm of NHS artificial insemination, members of the British LGBTQ+ community still face issues in starting families. “Trans and non-binary people who require fertility preservation treatment have long faced a ‘postcode lottery’ for funded treatment,” the news site reported. Legal complications with surrogacies additionally persist, especially since commercial surrogacy is not legal in the UK.
Nonetheless, the Strategy’s changes to the NHS and NICE rules for fertility treatments will have a significant impact in the lives of many same-sex couples.
“We are delighted that the UK government has listened to our call for fair and equal access to IVF treatment,” Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelly told Pink News. “This is a giant step towards a world where LGBTQ+ people have the same opportunity as everyone else to build a loving, thriving family of their own.”
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