This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs should lobby for improved infertility treatment, says RCGP president

GPs should lobby for improved infertility treatment, says RCGP president

GPs should use their ‘soft influence’ to lobby commissioners for better infertility treatment as the current provision is in a ‘terrible state’, according to the RCGP president.

Professor Dame Clare Gerada has also said that as a GP even she is ‘confused’ by the guidelines around in vitro fertilisation (IVF) accessibility and guidelines.

Speaking last week at an online event which discussed the funding and provision of fertility treatment in England, the South London GP called more widely for society to put a bigger focus on infertility.

She questioned why society spends so much time discussing the menopause – which is ‘not an illness’ but a ‘process you go through’ – but ‘no time discussing fertility’.

The event was called ‘NHS Fertility Treatment: Wouldn’t It Be NICE to Have a Workable Guideline?’ and was hosted by the Progressive Educational Trust (PET), a charity working to improve fertility treatment choices.

The most recent NICE guideline, which was updated in 2013, recommends that the NHS should provide up to three full cycles of IVF to a woman under the age of 40 undergoing fertility treatment.

However a report from PET, published last month, claimed that GPs, who are for many the ‘gatekeeper to referral for IVF treatment in England’, have a ‘poor understanding’ of the NICE guideline.

The report found that 50% of the 194 GPs interviewed were able to correctly identify that the guideline recommends three cycles of NHS-funded IVF.

Professor Gerada said: ‘I suspect that very few people know women are entitled to three cycles, because nobody gets three cycles, it’s barely lucky if you get one cycle.

‘Over the years that I’ve been a GP the rules have changed so much that even I’m confused.’

She added: ‘The problem for GPs isn’t that I don’t think we’re sympathetic to this, it’s because society is not sympathetic and we bring up the prevailing mood of society – that if no one talks about it, if no one is lobbying on behalf of couples or women who are trying to have a child, it becomes very difficult and it then gets put into the margins.’

As a senior GP leader, Professor Gerada said she attends multiple meetings a week about the state of the NHS, but fertility is never mentioned.

Calling for ‘better information’ for GPs, she said: ‘I have been a GP in the same area and even I struggle to know where to send my patients, and sadly most of my patients, I have to advise them to go privately because of waiting times on the NHS.

‘But even I struggle to know who’s best, who’s honest, who has reasonable and honest outcomes and who doesn’t try and sell the patient treatments that they can ill-afford because they can ill-afford it anyway.’

When asked by attendees what GPs can do to help improve access to NHS-funded treatment, Professor Gerada said the profession does have influence because many now sit on integrated care boards (ICBs) who have budgets.

She added: ‘But we do have soft influence. We can start to write to commissioners and to say: “Why are we not getting infertility treatment managed so effectively. Why are many women and men – but predominantly women – in this country spending £400m per year on private IVF when they should be getting this through the NHS?”‘

However, she also said the royal colleges have a part to play, saying she will ‘take that on board’ and look at what the RCGP has done to promote access to infertility treatment.

Last year, Professor Gerada and Dame Lesley Regan co-chaired a Public Policy Projects report on women’s health which called for an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ around funding for infertility treatment and for ‘add-ons’ to be regulated with clear information provided to patients.

At the time, less than 20 per cent of CCGs were offering the recommended three cycles of IVF and some areas were offering no fertility treatment at all.

As well as issues around the patchy provision of fertility treatment around the country, Professor Gerada also cited concerns about societal attitudes towards fertility.

She said: ‘There is something I think in society about believing that child is something that’s not a health issue. It’s treated as a social factor, and as a personal choice, but not a health issue.’

The RCGP president added: ‘I would also ask the question: why do we spend more time discussing the menopause – which on the whole is not an illness, it’s just a process you go through like menarche – more time discussing the menopause, more time destigmatising the menopause, which I never considered to be a stigmatising process by the way, and no time discussing infertility?’

In April, the Government launched a new scheme making cheaper Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) more accessible to women struggling with menopause symptoms.

And earlier this year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) allocated £25m over the next two years to speed up the development of women’s health hubs to provider better access to care for menstrual problems, contraception, pelvic pain and menopause care.

Improving fertility services, including the ‘transparency on provision and availability’, was part of the Government’s first-ever Women’s Health strategy, published last summer.

The strategy also stipulated that all new doctors complete mandatory women’s health training from 2024.


Visit Pulse Reference for details on 140 symptoms, including easily searchable symptoms and categories, offering you a free platform to check symptoms and receive potential diagnoses during consultations.


Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Church 12 June, 2023 7:43 pm

GPs should definitely NOT do anything to increase the number of children born into this corrupt, dishonest, disrespectful, God-forsaken mess of poverty, long-covid, lack of education, and puddle of selfishness, current known as the UK.
It would be child abuse.

Not on your Nelly 12 June, 2023 10:06 pm

Another GP should. No. Stop this GP should boll÷%&s. GP should do thier job they are paid to, do it well and not do anything else that they are not paid , Commissioned or trained to do. NO. NO. NO. A complete sentence. Good night.

Shaba Nabi 12 June, 2023 10:59 pm

I guess it comes down to what your definition of an illness is. If a menopausal oestrogen deficiency is causing debilitating night sweats, hot flushes, and significant anxiety and low mood, then it does become an illness.

We have a finite pot of money and I would personally prefer the RCGP to focus on the cost of private provision for CAMHS treatments.

We are letting an entire generation of children and young people down. Isn’t this a bigger travesty for health inequalities than private funding for IVF?

I have constant survivors guilt over paying for my daughters private CBT at £125 per hour when I know that similar young people in her peer group don’t have access to this and are still not attending school and falling behind in their life chances.

I feel despair that we are not shouting from the rooftops about widening the inequalities in our young.

David Banner 13 June, 2023 8:04 pm

This is like a 1st class passenger on RMS Titanic sending a strongly worded complaint to the captain about a dirty chandelier in the dining room hours after hitting the iceberg and running out of lifeboats with over a thousand people still on board.
As said better above, if I can’t squeeze a suicidal kid into CAMHS then IVF provision is pretty low on the totem pole. So no, we’re not going to be lobbying any time soon.