Cou­ples who vape are told they won’t get free IVF

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment - By Stephen Adams and Sanchez Man­ning

COU­PLES des­per­ate for a baby are be­ing de­nied NHS-funded IVF treat­ment be­cause they use e-cig­a­rettes or nico­tine patches, The Mail on Sun­day can re­veal.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of health au­thor­i­ties are adopt­ing the pol­icy – even though there is scant ev­i­dence that ‘va­p­ing’ harms hu­man fer­til­ity or un­born chil­dren. At least 16 NHS au­thor­i­ties in Eng­land, called clin­i­cal com­mis­sion­ing groups (CCGs), now refuse to fund IVF for e-cig­a­rette users, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey car­ried out by this pa­per. Our sur­vey re­sults come days af­ter Pub­lic Health Eng­land ad­vised GPs to tell pa­tients that va­p­ing is far less harm­ful than smok­ing.

Those that sup­port the CCGs’ move say ex­per­i­ments show no amount of nico­tine is safe in preg­nancy. But crit­ics say it is just a cover for cost­cut­ting. Many CCGs al­ready refuse to fund IVF for cig­a­rette-smok­ers or those who are obese.

Last night Aileen Feeney, of char­ity Fer­til­ity Net­work, said: ‘ This is an­other ex­am­ple of how health bosses are try­ing to ra­tion NHS fer­til­ity ser­vices by in­tro­duc­ing ar­bi­trary ac­cess cri­te­ria.’

All ten CCGs across Greater Manch­ester have adopted a ‘no e-cig or nico­tine patches’ pol­icy for IVF ap­pli­cants. Oth­ers with a sim­i­lar stance in­clude NHS Crawley, NHS Hor­sham and Mid- Sus­sex, NHS Ip­swich and East Sus­sex, NHS West Suf­folk, NHS Mil­ton Keynes, and NHS Nene in Northamp­ton­shire.

Our re­search shows how, in the ab­sence of hard ev­i­dence about whether va­p­ing is harm­ful to fer­til­ity and preg­nancy, a post­code lot­tery of poli­cies has de­vel­oped. For in­stance, two CCGs in Devon said there was ‘in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence cur­rently to sug­gest nico­tine re­place­ment ther­a­pies or elec­tronic cig­a­rettes have a neg­a­tive ef­fect’ on fer­til­ity treat­ment so ‘pa­tients who use them should not be ex­cluded from NHS treat­ment’.

Of the 117 CCGs that re­sponded to our sur­vey, 101 said they had no e-cig­a­rette re­stric­tions in their IVF poli­cies. Some said they were con­sid­er­ing chang­ing their poli­cies, while oth­ers had no plans to do so.

Re­search on the sub­ject is scarce. In 2015, au­thors of a ma­jor US re­view said: ‘No data ex­ists on the con­se­quences of e-cig­a­rette use on re­pro­duc­tive health, nor on e- cig­a­rette ex­po­sure to the foe­tus.’

Pro­fes­sor Peter Ha­jek, of Lon­don’s Wolf­son In­sti­tute for Preven­tive Medicine, said ‘vapers’ used e-cig­a­rettes to stop smok­ing and warned lump­ing the two to­gether risked send­ing out the false mes­sage that preg­nant women who smoked had noth­ing to gain by switch­ing to va­p­ing. But Dr Raj Mathur, sec­re­tary of the Bri­tish Fer­til­ity So­ci­ety, said he could un­der­stand why some NHS bosses were re­fus­ing to fund IVF for nico­tine- users, ‘ when that drug is not known to be safe’ in preg­nancy.

CON­TRO­VERSY: Crit­ics say ban­ning IVF for vapers is a cost-cut­ting mea­sure

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