NHS South East London has agreed to review its “offensive” ban on single women receiving IVF treatment, after Labour MP Harriet Harman wrote to the health secretary.

In her letter, sent August 20, the Camberwell and Peckham MP who chairs Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights described the policy as “cruel.”

Its guidelines, which cover Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Bromley and Bexley, state that women who seek fertility treatment should be in a “stable relationship”.

The policy, adopted in 2011, states: “Because of the known disadvantage that providing assisted conception to a single woman would cause both the child and the mother, funding of assisted conception for single women is not available in SE London.”

Harman said the policy “discriminates and sends [a] terrible message to lone parents and children of lone parents.”

She called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to “step in and reverse [the] cruel policy.”

Southwark CCG has apologised for the policy’s wording, and committed to a ‘rapid review’ of its IVF policy for single women, expected to be finished by the end of November.

NHS Southwark CCG clinical chair Jonty Heaversedge said: “We know that infertility causes suffering and is a condition that requires investigation, management and treatment which is carried out in accordance with national guidelines.

“As commissioners we also know there will always be competing calls for limited resources and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. As part of the provision of treatment and care, commissioners have to ensure that access to NHS fertility services is provided fairly and consistently.”

Dr Heaversedge said the review of access criteria will “specifically consider issues relating to inequality and discrimination in relation to single women”, with an updated policy to go before its governing body by the end of November.

Harman described the response as “encouraging.” 

In a tweet, she wrote: “Govt must now step in and outlaw nationally. Prejudice has no place in society let alone our NHS.”