I have a condition which, for years, denied me the chance to live my life the way I wanted.
There is a treatment available which could completely relieve the symptoms, but the NHS would only fund one round of this treatment, and on average it takes three to work. I faced having to pay thousands of pounds to fund this life-changing treatment.
This situation may have evoked sympathy in many of you – but this usually changes when I reveal that the disease is infertility.
One in seven couples will struggle to conceive, but this lack of understanding and empathy from others means many will probably suffer in silence.
I’m infertile because I have endometriosis – a condition I could not have prevented. It is not my fault that I have endometriosis, but I can think of plenty of conditions treated by the NHS which are the fault of the person suffering, and could have been entirely preventable had they made a few lifestyle changes.
I have never felt entitled to have a child – but I did feel entitled to have treatment available to help me at least try. Infertility is a condition recognised by the World Health Organisation as a disease. What other disease would the NHS refuse to treat more than once?
When the NHS launched in 1948 its core principles were that it meet the needs of everyone, be free at point of entry and be based on clinical need not ability to pay – these remain today. One of its core values is that everyone counts and that everyone should be treated with equal respect and importance. Yet it is neglecting to follow these principles and values when it comes to treating suffers of endometriosis and infertility.
Of course,everyone is aware that the NHS budget is stretched, but the whole ethos of the service is that it offers treatment to all without judgement – it is meant to be fair. Currently, couples face a postcode lottery on the number of cycles they are given depending on where they live. It means many are getting into enormous debt to pay for treatment.
“If you can’t afford IVF you can’t afford a baby,” I have heard people jeer. But that is not true – we all make sacrifices when it comes to having children, and budgets may just about stretch to accommodate another person. That, however, doesn’t mean we all have a spare few thousand pounds lying around to pay for IVF, which could be provided on the NHS.
I was fortunate in that I could afford the treatment, particularly as my family also offered to help pay. But at what point would I have given up? I know I would have gone into debt if it meant I could have a chance of conceiving. You can’t put a price on having a child, but not everyone is financially able to push themselves to the brink.
Thankfully, I eventually went through a successful round of IVF and now have a beautiful little boy. But in my happiness I remember that many others are still struggling.
IVF was invented in this country nearly 40 years ago, yet rather than embrace this groundbreaking treatment and be proud of it, couples are being denied the chance to try it enough times for it to be a success. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises health services to offer three cycles – so why is the NHS only offering one in some areas?
Why is our health service denying so many couples the chance to try to have a family by limiting their chances?
Wanting a baby isn’t like wanting a new car or a bigger home. It is a need, one of the most natural and strongest instincts we can experience as humans, and one that cannot be ignored. Our main purpose in life is to recreate.
It’s about the need to create a future. For me, a life without children seemed empty and pointless. IVF provided me with the opportunity to change that.
There will always be someone worse off, someone more “deserving” of treatment on the NHS. But that’s not how it’s meant to work.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. For more information visit endometriosis-uk.org