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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
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Explainer: How will the new publicly funded IVF scheme work?

We’ve collected the answers to important questions like what the scheme covers and who is eligible.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Health has announced the details of a scheme coming into place from September that will fund one cycle of IVF for people who meet certain eligibility criteria.

Budget 2023, which was released in September 2022, allocated €10 million for the roll-out of free infertility treatments, but it took until today for the specifics of the scheme to be confirmed.

It will be the first time that Ireland has publicly funded Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) treatments.

Here’s some of the important information that has been confirmed about what the scheme will cover and who is eligible to receive assistance.

What will the scheme cover?

The scheme includes fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Funding for IVF or ICSI will be available for one full cycle for eligible couples. For IUI, the scheme will cover up to three cycles of treatment.

It will be operated in conjunction with private clinics, which will be paid by the government for providing the treatments.

Who is eligible?

The scheme has set out a number of strict eligibility criteria:

  • individuals must reside in the Republic of Ireland and be referred through their GP to a regional fertility hub
  • eligible couples must have no living children from their existing relationship
  • at least one partner in the relationship must have no living child
  • individuals must have either had no previous treatment or a maximum of one previous IVF cycle where all embryos created have been used
  • neither partner can have had voluntary sterilisation
  • a self-declaration form to assess the welfare of future children must be completed
  • there cannot be more than two intending parents as a result of the treatment
  • the couple must have been in a relationship for at least one year
  • the intending birth mother should be a maximum age of 40 years plus 364 days at the time of referral to the regional fertility hub
  • the maximum referring age for males is 59 years plus 364 days
  • the intending birth mother must have a BMI within the range of 18.5 kg/m2 to 30.0 kg/m2 

Are couples or individuals using donated sperm or eggs included?

Anyone using donated sperm or eggs – including heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and single women – will not be included in the scheme right away in September but will be in the future as the scheme is expanded.

The Department of Health has stated that “given the complex regulatory and clinical issues still to be addressed in respect of certain categories of AHR treatment, public funding of a number of specific services is being commenced on a structured and phased basis”.

“Therefore, treatment involving the use of donated gametes (sperm and eggs) will not be available in September for heterosexual or same-sex couples or single female patients. This treatment will become available as soon as possible.” 

How can someone access the scheme?

To start the process, patients must get a referral from their GP to their local regional fertility hub.

Self-referrals to the hub have not been made possible. 

Why is there an age limit?

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s News at One this afternoon, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the eligibility criteria “have come through expert group recommendations similar to the NHS, similar to large parts of Europe”.

“The rationale around age from the expert group is that there is a very significant reduction in the chances of success as a woman moves from around her mid 30s up into her 40s,” the minister said.

“Under the age of 35, there is a one in three chance of success from one cycle. When the age moves from 35 to 39, that drops from one in three to one in five. When you get to 40 to 42, it drops to less than one in 10. Above 44, it drops to about one in 50,” he said.

“It’s about targeting the resources where there is the greatest chance of success for couples.” 

Why is the funding for IVF limited to one cycle?

Minister Donnelly said that the current criteria are a “first step” and indicated the scheme may be expanded further in the future, though he did not offer any timeline.

“What we wanted to do was give the greatest possible opportunity to the greatest number of people based on the resources for IVF we have in the country now,” he said.

“What we’re doing is that ultimately this will become a publicly provided service. We’re opening the first national centre, a HSE centre, in Cork next year. That’s set to do about 500 IVF cycles.

“But I wasn’t satisfied to wait for the several years it’ll take for the HSE to build up that level of capacity, so what we’re doing is we’re using private providers as well.

“What we found is that by offering one cycle to begin with, we can we can give as many couples as possible that opportunity.”

Where can I find more information?

The Department of Health’s official statement is available on its website.

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