NHS bodies in south east London have announced they are reversing a policy which denied single women from receiving funded-IVF treatment because of the burden created by single parents.

The policy, which saw single women denied funded IVF servies because of the "burden on society" caused by single-parent families, was branded "discriminatory and cruel" by one Labour MP.

NHS South East London, which includes the NHS commissioning groups for Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, pledged to carry out a review of their IVF policy following criticism.

And yesterday, January 23, NHS SE London announced it will amend the policy in line with NICE guidance, allowing single women access to IVF.

Katherine O'Brien, spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, said she was "absolutely delighted" that women in south east London would no longer be restricted by "outdated and offensive judgements about single-parent families."



The policy came to light in August 2019 after the Sunday Times reported that single women were being denied NHS-funded infertility treatments "because of the known disadvantage that providing assisted conception to a single woman would cause both the child and the mother.”

One document stated that "a sole women is unable to bring out the best outcomes for the child," and said as they are generally poorer, single mums are likely to have support needs compared to two-parent couples, "thereby placing a greater burden on society in general."

The Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, Harriet Harman, wrote to the health secretary Matt Hancock urging him to "step in and immediately change the policy."

She said it was "perverse" to seek to justify denying IVF to single mums, adding that infertility causes such suffering that adopting such a policy was "cruel".

"This is rationing on a discriminatory basis."

NICE's official guidelines state that women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF if they have not conceived after two years of regular unprotected sex, or 12 cycles of artificial insemination.



The NHS group issued an apology for the distress caused by the wording of the policy, and announced its intention to "conduct a rapid review."

A coalition of several MPs and charities then wrote to the chief officer of NHS SE London Commissioning Alliance urging the policy to be scrapped and seeking clarification from NHS SE London.

They have now announced that they will "amend the SE London Treatment Access Policy for IVF for single women, to enable them to have access to IVF” if they have confirmed infertility by “unsuccessful cycles of artificial insemination (AI) within the 12 past months.” The letter concludes that “amended policies should be on CCG websites in January 2020.”

Commenting, Ms O'Brien of bpas said the policy had forced women to spend tens of thousands of pounds on IVF treatment and made others feel that they may not be a good parent because they did not have a partner.

"Ill-found social judgements and discriminatory rationing should play no part in the allocation of IVF treatment on the NHS."

The charity welcomed the decision, but also warned that a 'postcode' lottery is still "hindering fiar access to treatment for fertility" nationwide.