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'Absolutely outrageous' that promised public fertility fund still not finalised

Department of Health says rollout of €1 million fund announced last year ‘under consideration’.

A PUBLIC FUND which promised financial support for people undergoing fertility treatment has not been finalised by the government. This is despite an announcement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last December that a €1 million fund would be rolled out this year.  

The Department of Health announced in 2017 that a funding model would be presented to the Minister for Health Simon Harris by the end of that year. Yet the Department states that “options in relation to the parameters of any potential public funding model are still under consideration” two years on. 

“I think it’s absolutely outrageous,” said Professor Mary Wingfield, clinical director of the Merrion Fertility Clinic, who added that discussions on funding fertility have been ongoing since 2002. “I’ve seen patients who said they won’t go for treatment now as they’ll wait until the public funding comes in.”

  • (Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project delving into the delays and resistance to state funding of fertility treatment in Ireland.)

Delayed promises can have a big impact on options for fertility treatment if people choose to defer IVF or other treatments, according to Wingfield. “People with fertility issues don’t have time to wait as the biggest issue with fertility is age.” 

According to Wingfield, €1 million would offer treatment to 200 people, but there are around 6,000 IVF cycles being done in Ireland every year.

Around one in four couples in Ireland experience difficulty when trying to have children and and will face thousands of euro in costs if they seek assisted human reproduction (AHR) treatment.

Wingfield said she sees a lot of people in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, who can’t afford treatment due to the cost.

“People mortgage their house or borrow from their parents so if it doesn’t work out, it’s tragic.”

Ireland and Lithuania remain the only two EU countries not to offer state funding for assisted reproduction even though the World Health Organisation recognises infertility as a medical condition. 

A Health Research Board (HRB) review of international funding models published two years ago concluded that “the overall economic cost to society is relatively modest in the context of public spending from the overall health budget”. 

The delayed implementation of funding for AHR is “reflective of years of neglect of the challenge of fertility by our politicians”, according to Donal Buggy, head of services for the Irish Cancer Society.

People who have had cancer as children or young adults can have an increased chance of fertility issues. They should have the option to preserve their fertility through sperm or egg freezing, added Buggy. 

“Cancer patients should have access to assisted reproductive treatment such as IUI and IVF to allow them to have every opportunity to have a baby.”  

The Department of Health defended their fertility policy saying that “though AHR treatment is not currently funded”, fertility medications are covered by the Drug Payment Scheme or on medical cards. They also mentioned tax relief for those paying for private IVF treatment. 

However, in order to get access to certain medications covered by these schemes, people must be able to afford to pay for the private treatment. ”In some ways the more money you have at the moment, the cheaper it is,” said Buggy. 

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, told Noteworthy.ie “the Taoiseach and I have allocated funding to accelerate the assistance given to those experiencing fertility difficulties”. He added, “it remains my intention to enhance the provision of infertility services in the HSE this year.”

“It’s not going to happen in 2019 as it’s October now,” said Wingfield. She is also concerned that there’s still no public structure in place for AHR treatment as all clinics are currently in the private sector. 

Funding Fertility Investigation 

Do you want to know more about fertility costs in Ireland and the promised Government treatment fund?

Through Noteworthy, we want to do an in-depth investigation into why the Government’s fertility fund is still not in operation.

We want to compare fertility costs in Ireland to other EU countries and look into the type of state funding offered. We also want to investigate the supports offered to people who need fertility-related procedures or treatments due to health complications or illness.

Here’s how to help support this proposal>

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Maria Delaney

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