Clarity sought on publicly funded IVF treatment

by Alex Greaney
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Alex Greaney

Labour Councillor, Peter O’Brien, has urged Government to provide clarity to all hoping to make use of the publicly funded IVF programme introduced by Government in Budget 2023.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, said in February that: “Phase Two of the roll-out of the Model of Care will see the introduction of tertiary fertility services, including IVF, provided through the public health system. In this regard, funding was secured in Budget 2023 to support access to advanced AHR treatments, including, crucially, to allow the commencement of Phase Two of the roll-out of the Model of Care.

“This investment will facilitate the first steps to be taken towards the provision of a complete publicly-provided fertility service, which is the ultimate objective of Government. In particular, it will allow the historic development of the first National Advanced AHR Centre, delivering IVF and ICSI through a wholly public clinic.

“This is scheduled to open in the early part of 2024 and will provide a nationwide service, with all six Regional Fertility Hubs having equity of access for onward referral to it, via a shared care pathway. Subject to the provision of additional funding in future, it is envisaged that additional National Advanced AHR Centres will be developed and become operational on a phased basis elsewhere in the country.”

PHOTO – Peter O’Brien

This response has left many uncertain about what exactly will and will not be covered and how the scheme will work.

Urging people to sign Labour’s petition to introduce IVF leave, O’Brien said their office has been inundated with queries from women and couples who are confused about the scheme and are putting off making life changing decisions as a result.

O’Brien said: “The much trumpeted move to provide publicly funded IVF represented a step in the right direction from this Government, however research carried out by Sims IVF clearly points to a huge disconnect between those seeking treatment and the programme set up by Government. One in six couples will experience fertility issues, so we know how urgent this support is.

“As the research shows, 18% of those surveyed expressed their concern about the delay in getting public funding, which is pushing off making decisions for their family. Unfortunately, the reality is that time is of the essence when it comes to family planning. Setting up a substandard system is simply not acceptable.

“Every week we have people come to us asking us whether they should put off accessing fertility treatments until public funding comes on stream. They are literally having to put life on hold because of the uncertainty about who will bear the cost.

“A huge concern of workers hoping to access treatment is the fact that right now in Ireland, there is no entitlement for time off work to attend appointments relating to fertility treatments like IVF, nor is there paid time off work when a woman experiences an early miscarriage.

“Labour continues to push Government to urgently progress our bill to rectify this. We need to provide leave to women when they need it most and ensure that our workplaces take account of our lived experiences as women.

“We need to provide women – and men – with support in the workplace, where they are struggling with fertility or other reproductive health issues. Our hopes and dreams for our family do not exist outside of the hours of 9 to 5. They are always with us. This needs to be acknowledged in how we approach helping people in the workplace when they need it most.

“Aside from the workplace protections that this bill would introduce, and the help it would give to couples undergoing very expensive fertility treatments like IVF, it would also represent a meaningful step towards opening conversations around reproductive health in Ireland and would help to encourage public awareness of reproductive health issues. With the flick of a pen, the Government can address the clear and obvious inequalities in our workplaces and provide early miscarriage and fertility treatment leave.”

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