Previously reported that the IVF funding would amount to €1 million, the fund has now been doubled.
The Minister has confirmed that €2 million will be spent on supporting access to consultation and diagnostics for both men and women experiencing fertility difficulties.
This is being described in Government circles as the “first step in the roll-out of the model of care for infertility”.
Approximately one in six couples in Ireland experience infertility.
However, the HSE states that 85% of couples will conceive a child naturally after one year of trying. This figure rises to 95% after two years.
Those who need IVF can expect to pay between €4,000 and €4,500 for one course of IVF treatment. This amount does not include medication, and costs can escalate higher depending on the treatment necessary, and how many rounds of IVF a couple require.
On December 19th, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD received Government approval to publicly fund infertility services.
Minister Harris also received approval for a model of care for infertility, which will ensure that infertility issues will be addressed through the public health system at the lowest level of clinical intervention necessary.
The model of care will comprise three stages, starting in primary care and extending into secondary and tertiary care.
Structured referral pathways will be put in place, and patients will be referred onwards for further investigations or treatment as required and as clinically appropriate:
• Primary Care: GPs will, as normal, offer initial counselling, define the infertility issues, undertake baseline investigations, and review lifestyle factors. Where required, the patient will be referred for further investigations and/or treatment to secondary care
• Secondary Care: Regional fertility hubs will be developed in each maternity network. Each regional hub will be networked with a national tertiary Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) centre, to which patients will be referred, as required
• Tertiary Care: IVF and other advanced AHR treatments will be provided in 2/3 National AHR Centres
Phase One of the roll-out of the model of care will see the development of infertility services at secondary care level.
Funding of €2 million will be provided to develop regional fertility hubs in maternity networks, which will facilitate the management of a significant proportion of patients presenting with infertility issues.
Minister Harris said:
“It is important we don’t focus solely on IVF treatment. We believe 50 to 70 per cent of people presenting with fertility issues can have their issues resolved at the Regional Fertility Hubs.”
Phase Two will see the introduction of tertiary infertility services, including IVF, in the public health system. This cannot commence until the service is regulated through the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill.
Minister Harris said:
“I believe that this model of care for infertility will ensure the provision of safe, effective and accessible services through the public health system as part of the full range of services available in obstetrics and gynaecology.
“The emphasis at this point is on building up services across the country to enable a considerable number of patients presenting with infertility issues to be managed without the need to undergo invasive IVF or other advanced AHR treatment.
“Work will commence immediately to develop the first regional hubs in Dublin and Cork. By first concentrating on getting the fundamentals right particularly at secondary care level, we will be in a position to estimate the demand for tertiary AHR treatment and the requisite resources to commence these services.”
It is also important to note, while advanced AHR treatment such as IVF is not currently funded by the HSE, a defined list of fertility medicines needed for fertility treatment is covered under the High Tech Arrangements. Medicines covered by the High Tech Arrangements must be prescribed by a consultant/specialist and authorised for supply to the client’s nominated community pharmacy by the High Tech Hub managed by the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service. The cost of the medicines is then covered, as appropriate, under the client’s eligibility, that is, Medical Card or Drugs Payment Scheme. The impact on the total cost of AHR treatment for individuals who avail of these schemes is not insignificant. In addition, there is other support available in that patients who access IVF treatment privately may claim tax relief on the costs involved under the tax relief for medical expenses scheme.