Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Couple reveal their heartbreak after struggling to get IVF on the NHS

A woman has called for more awareness around the struggles of LGBTQ+ couples trying to access fertility treatment in the UK.

Katherine and Laura Gonzales-Moore’s journey to parenthood began when the couple were living in the US, which is where Katherine, 42, is from and where they met.

Laura, 35, told ‘We did start trying for a baby two years ago. We had some treatment and, initially, we were successful getting pregnant.

‘Unfortunately, I miscarried at about eight or nine weeks. And then more recently, last October, we got pregnant again. But that ended in a chemical pregnancy.

‘It was very hard, because we were actually quite fortunate that I got pregnant on the second go. So we had that quick success, and obviously the excitement and everything that came with it, and it was taken away from us relatively quickly.

‘We were only eight weeks in and it was over, which was heartbreaking. And then of course it’s not like, next month we try again – there’s so much that goes into it like waiting for hormones to drop, and getting bloodwork done, and timing – there are so many factors that come into it. We just ran out of time.’

They relocated to Lytham St Annes in Lancashire recently to be close to Laura’s family in the UK, and started exploring options to continue their fertility treatment through the NHS.

‘In pregnancy and parenthood terms, they already class us as geriatric,’ Laura added. ‘So at this point, as we’re two years down the line, we don’t really have a lot of time to waste.’

They were hopeful of receiving treatment following the release of the government’s Women’s Health Strategy in summer last year, which aims to allow female same-sex couples to access NHS-funded fertility services in a more equitable way.

Previously same-sex couples and single women had to pay for several rounds of their own treatment to ‘prove’ medical infertility before they were eligible on the NHS, but heterosexual couples have to try to conceive naturally for two years to qualify for IVF.

The policy led to a landmark legal case in 2021 after a same-sex couple accused their local fertility clinic of discrimination.

Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, known as ‘Wegan’, said they had to pay tens of thousands of pounds to get IVF treatment on the NHS.

The married couple from Windsor, both in their thirties, dropped their case last month after Frimley’s integrated care board said it recognised the need to update its policy in light of the Women’s Health Strategy. They called it a ‘fertility equality victory’.

The parliamentary under-secretary of state for mental health and women’s health Strategy, Maria Caulfield, said in May that she expected the change to take effect during 2023.

So Laura and Katherine were shocked to find the LGBTQ+ equality change has only so far taken effect in a handful of locations, with the Women’s Health Strategy labelled a ’10-year ambition’.

Laura added: ‘The [Women’s Health Strategy] had emphasis that the world is progressing and things are moving forward, and it was making sense that same-sex couples – and everyone else that comes into the alphabet bracket – had the same access that a straight couple would.

‘We effectively felt like we were starting from the beginning again, and we paid privately to kind of fast track ourselves back into an NHS referral.

‘But there seemed to be a lot of confusion… everyone kind of seemed a little bit unsure of what the rules were, and there wasn’t a lot of direction.

‘We kept moving forward, only to be told we would still have to self-fund six rounds of insemination before even being eligible for IVF treatment on the NHS.

‘And even though I am British and I would be the patient, because my wife isn’t British yet that would eliminate us for any kind of treatment – even though we pay thousands for her NHS surcharge on a spousal visa and we both work full-time, and pay our taxes.’

Laura, who works in administration, and Katherine, who is an operations manager at a golf club, are now hoping to self-fund their IVF and have launched a GoFundMe page to put towards their costs.

They are also selling their car and doing other things to save the money, estimating they will need a minimum of £18,000 to fund three rounds of IVF.

The crowdfunding platform said it has seen double the amount donated to fundraisers mentioning ‘IVF’ and ‘same-sex’ in 2023 compared with 2022 to date, adding it is seeing a 60% increase in the launch of fundraisers mentioning the terms.

The couple, who have been together for six years and married for three, now hope to raise awareness of the situation they and many other LGBTQ+ families are facing.

What is IVF and how does it work?

According to the NHS, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one of several techniques available to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

It can be carried out using a woman’s eggs and her male partner’s sperm, or eggs and sperm from donors.

National guidelines recommend IVF should be offered to women under the age of 43 who have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for two years, or who have had 12 cycles of artificial insemination, with at least six of these cycles using a method called intrauterine insemination (IUI).

But the final decision about who can have NHS-funded IVF in England is made by local integrated care boards (ICBs) – formally CCGs – and their criteria may be stricter.

Those who are not eligible on the NHS can have treatment at a private clinic. Costs vary, but one cycle of treatment may cost up to £5,000 or more.

‘Most people don’t have thousands lining their pockets, but some people are just so desperate to be parents, they will do whatever it takes,’ Laura said.

‘The world that we live in right now seems very progressive and accepting and equal, but only in certain places… there’s still a lot of a lot of work to be done and progress to be made.

‘It is already a struggle in itself if you’re lesbian, gay, transgender or anything, you’re already “not normal”.

‘You already have those struggles growing up and internally, so to get to a certain point in your life where you’re ready to be a parent and come up against more restrictions and hurdles and more doors being closed in your face… leaves you feeling quite defeated.

‘Everyone that came before us that fought for equality, and same-sex marriage wasn’t even made legal that long ago [2013]. It just feels like another battle.’

A department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told ‘Our Women’s Health Strategy for England sets out our 10-year ambitions for boosting health and wellbeing and improving how the health and care system listens to women and girls.

‘The strategy contained a number of important changes and future ambitions to improve the variations in access to NHS-funded fertility services, including improving same-sex access – which we remain committed to and expect to start this year.’

They acknowledged a delay in local action, adding NHS England is developing advice to assist integrated care boards in implementing the changes which is expected to be available later in 2023.

Former pop star Myleene Klass has recently taken huge steps towards making history after she successfully campaigned for the law to be changed, which previously saw expectant mums having to suffer through three miscarriages before being able to access care and support.

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