IVF clinics are denying treatment to smokers in the latest indication of creeping barriers to childless couples seeking help, it has emerged.
A Department of Health survey seen by Labour MP Sally Keeble last week reveals that clinics are increasingly telling mothers that they must quit cigarettes before they are considered for free treatment.
It comes amid growing concern that IVF is being restricted, with some infertile couples only receiving one cycle of treatment under the NHS, against official guidance.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has said that clinics should offer three cycles of treatment. But four years after making the recommendation, only a third of health trusts provide more than one cycle.
News that women – and on occasions their partners – have been told to quit smoking before given treatment is likely to reignite the debate over the line between advice and restrictions in the area of IVF.
In 2006 the British Fertility Society said obese women should be told to lose weight before being considered for any treatment. And some Primary Health Trusts use narrow age restrictions when it comes to treatment, freezing more couples out of receiving free treatment.
Ms Keeble, who underwent IVF herself, said: “Smoking is not a good idea if you are trying to get pregnant. It’s linked to miscarriage, and IVF is linked to miscarriage anyway.
“I think there’s no point in putting people through expensive and traumatic treatment if they are doing something which is likely to make it unsuccessful.”
She said women were on an “emotional rollercoaster” already by undergoing IVF.
“It’s really important that the people doing it should give it the best possible chance of success.”
“I think there’s a whole lot of different issues about weight and people’s ability to lose weight and maintain weight but, with smoking, it’s such an obvious one. It’s entirely in the gift of the person to stop smoking.”
On the wider problem of clinics not providing more than one cycle of treatment, the parliamentarian said: “I think it’s scandalous.”