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£300,000 extra cash gives hope to infertile women

Women struggling to access infertility treatment have been given fresh hope by a major funding boost.

The money is aimed at expanding the reach of IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) services.

And women up to the age of 40 in the NHS Lothian area will now be offered treatment, ­following an extension of the upper age limit by two years.

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However, changes in the way treatment is allocated mean would-be patients will have to stop smoking, and some will have to lose weight.

The health board has set aside an extra £300,000 this year and for the next few years to widen access to IVF and drive down waiting times.

The cash investment is part of a new treatment protocol in NHS Lothian to help reduce waiting times -- by up to 12 months in some cases -- and improve care.

The funding boost follows a report which showed couples across Scotland face a postcode lottery for fertility services, with waiting times ranging from six months to three years depending on health board area.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie ­Baillie highlighted figures in October last year that revealed the waiting times in 11 areas.

The longest average waiting time was in Lothian, where there are 400 patients seeking treatment, waiting an average of three years. It is hoped this will be cut to two with an increase in ­numbers of patients treated.

In Fife, where there are 180 patients, the maximum waiting time is 26 months.

In Greater Glasgow and Clyde the waiting time is ­approximately 22 months.

The new funding means patients in the Lothian area will undergo a maximum of two rounds of treatment. Each round will normally commence with a fresh cycle. Women taking part should not smoke, and should have a body mass index of less than 30. They can be referred to appropriate support services to help them meet these criteria.

If women were added to the list before the revised protocol was introduced and do not meet the criteria, they will be granted a period of suspension, which can be up to a year, to help them meet the new rules.

The new thresholds for treatment will be in line with guidance from the Expert Advisory Group on Infertility Services in Scotland (EAGISS).

Dr David Farquharson, ­clinical director of women’s services in NHS Lothian, said: “As with all other health boards, we have been working with the Scottish Government and infertility networks to establish a common pattern of provision across the country. We are confident this new funding and the introduction of new treatment guidelines will increase access for scores of women across Lothian.

“We are committed to ensuring that as wide a range of women as possible can undergo treatment with shorter waiting times.

“The new treatment protocol reflects current national guidance and will ensure that treatment is provided for women up to their 40th birthday.

“It is also well known that women who smoke and have a high BMI have less chance of successful fertility treatment. As a result we will try to encourage women to give up the habit and lose weight before they undergo treatment, and we will be able to refer them to support services.”

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