Cost must not be a barrier to accessing fertility treatment, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Tipperary Senator, Garret Ahearn raised the matter in the Seanad recently and highlighted that Ireland and Lithuania are the only two EU countries with no state funded IVF programme.
Senator Ahearn said, “Every couple going through fertility treatment experiences two key types of challenges; emotional and financial.
“A state funded IVF programme would at least go some way towards alleviating the burden of cost of such treatment, which can add up in the thousands. We must have equality of access; cost must not be a barrier to anyone who wants to start a family but who needs fertility treatment.
“When Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was Minister for Health, he made a landmark progressive move in this regard, announcing his intention to provide public funding for assisted human reproductive treatment for those who need help with fertility. He also drafted relevant legislation, the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill.
“This is of course complex legislation, involving careful drafting and much important scrutiny from the office of the Attorney General. However, women and couples with fertility issues often don’t have time on their side and we need to see urgency in relation to this legislation.
“I was informed by Minister of State at the Department of Health, Anne Rabbitte, that intensive work on the Bill is being undertaken by officials to finalise the legislation before the end of this year. Currently, Ireland and Lithuania are the only two EU countries with no state funded IVF programme and we need this to change.
“Much of the emotional challenge comes with dealing with the sometimes devastating news that there are fertility issues – absorbing the news, trying to cope with the avalanche of information, often at a point in life when time is not on your side.
“One way to perhaps alleviate this challenge is to support earlier information which would facilitate earlier intervention, which could make a huge difference to many women and couples.
“A blood test for a woman to assess the ovarian reserve, known as an anti-Müllerian hormone, AMH, costs €80 because it has to go to a specific facility. The State should support these tests financially and we should promote them as a standard check that women can avail of in their 20s. Facilitating women to find out much earlier that there may be a problem down the line would help ensure they are not receiving that news when it is too late. The possibility of earlier intervention would give options and greater decision-making power to individuals and couples. Minister Rabbitte acknowledged to me in the Seanad that this could be a cost-efficient approach and committed to bringing it back to the Minister for Health.
“I welcome the Government’s development of a model of care for infertility which will ensure infertility issues affecting both men and women will be addressed through the public health system at the lowest level of clinical intervention necessary as part of the full range of services available in obstetrics and gynaecology. It starts with primary care with GPs and extends into secondary care, in the form of regional fertility hubs and then, where necessary, tertiary care such as IVF and other AHR treatments, with patients being referred onwards through structured pathways.
“Fine Gael in government has worked hard to prioritise children and families. We established the first dedicated Minister for Children, established the two free pre-school years, and introduced two weeks of Paternity Benefit and two weeks of paid Parental leave for example. We must continue to work hard for families and as part of that support those who need help in starting a family.
“I hope to see urgent progress on the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill to assist all women and couples going through fertility issues”, Senator Ahearn concluded.