A lesbian couple wanting a child have hit out at the ‘discriminatory’ rules that force same sex couples to pay huge sums for IVF.
Nicolle Powell, 29, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and her partner Ellen Gaukrodger, 26, married recently and want to have a family of their own.
But they say that unlike straight couples they face a bill as high as £25,000 to become eligible for NHS IVF treatment, and have backed a court case bid that hopes to overturn the so-called ‘gay tax’.
Nicolle was previously told by doctors she has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PTOS) which affects her fertility.
The couple could not afford to pay for the 12 rounds of IUI needed to prove infertility and qualify for NHS-funded IVF, despite conceiving naturally not being a possibility for them.
For straight couples, the policy states that they must try to conceive naturally for two years before IVF is considered.
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The pair are now forced to pursue a known donor route to have a baby, which comes with issues such as agreeing on whether the donor will have access to the child.
Speaking to the Mirror, Nicolle said: “We’ve always wanted children right from the start.
“I had issues with my fertility that GPs wouldn’t really take seriously. So I paid for private testing and found out I had polycystic ovarian syndrome.
“When we spoke to a consultant who was same-sex orientated herself, she said we would only be able to get NHS -funded treatment if we underwent 12 hours of IUI – six of which would have to be in a clinic.”
She added: “I was quoted for the 12 rounds of IUI which came to around £25,000. If we went private it would be £5,000 and over and that’s for one cycle.”
The cost of IVF for same-sex couples hit the headlines in November when a couple threatened to sue their local NHS over the issue.
Megan Bacon-Evans, 34, and her wife Whitney, 33, want to go to court over what they claim is ” IVF discrimination” in what could be a landmark legal case.
Kennedy News and Media)
The couple, together for 12 years, said they also face having to pay tens of thousands of pounds to become eligible for NHS IVF treatment compared to opposite sex couples.
They claim that LGBTQ+ couples are not entitled to the same access to fertility treatment as heterosexual couples which amounts to direct and indirect discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010.
They are fundraising to help pay for the legal battle, but in the meantime other lesbian cases face making stark choices if they want children.
Ellen and Nicolle have decided to go down the known donor route which is significantly cheaper than using an unknown donor, but there is no guarantee that it will be successful.
Nicolle said: “We started looking into the possibility of known donors and if that doesn’t work, then we would have to pay private to undergo fertility treatment because there is no way I could afford to go through all the rounds of IUI required by the NHS
“A known donor is someone that you find and then find out more about them during the process. Its done outside of a clinic using artificial insemination.
“There’s no cost to that aside from travel which they can only ask for so much… but there are issues that you have to get around in terms of if they want to co-parent and access to the child.
“With having PTOS, my cycles are quite irregular so in terms of doing it outside of the clinic, I have to rely on supplements and tracking my own body. If that doesn’t work then I’d need intervention through a fertility clinic.”
If the process is unsuccessful, the couple may have to pay £5,000 for each round of IUI from a private clinic.
The Fertility Network’s recent survey revealed that all of England’s 106 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) now ration access to NHS-funded fertility treatment, with over a quarter of CCGs (26.6%) denying access to same-sex couples.
Their research found that just 8 CCGs allow same-sex couples to have NHS-funded fertility treatment directly, while throughout Scotland all same-sex couples can have six donor insemination cycles, followed by three full IVF cycles, if needed.
The strict nature of the fertility process for same-sex couples has left Nicolle feeling discriminated against with limited options on how to begin her family.
She said: “There’s a level of discrimination against same sex couples. The way to access CCG (clinical commissioning group) for fertility treatments for women is so strict especially for same sex couples – we can’t just go to bed with our partners and conceive, as much as we’d love to, we can’t.
“It’s already a clinical setting to have a family, and then you’ve got added barriers and financial disadvantage on top of that.”
“Although adoption is not something that me and my wife have said that we wouldn’t do in the future, we would, that is a process in itself,” Nicolle added.
“It’s long and strenuous and doesn’t guarantee the outcome of a child either. For me, it’s a deep-seated need to want to carry a child and to experience pregnancy and motherhood in that way, and not through other options.
“With adoption, we would want a blended family, but I don’t see why I should give up my right to carry my own child either.”
Given her own challenges with fertility treatment, Nicolle is pleased to hear that the matter is being brought before the court, which could become a landmark case.
She said: “I think what Megan and Whitney are doing is incredible and if they get through with it and something does change, it will pave the way for more LGBTQ+ families in the future.
“Even to have some form of change in the guidelines for fertility treatment, even if it was just to reduce the amount of cycles we need to do beforehand, it will be a massive advantage.”
Gwenda Burns, chief executive of leading patient charity Fertility Network, said: “Asking same-sex couples, and others, to prove their infertility by undergoing multiple rounds of privately-funded donor insemination places them at a huge financial disadvantage, or pushes them towards finding an unregulated donor online, which is highly risky and not advised.
“I’d really struggle to think of another NHS medical discipline where same-sex couples, or indeed a single person, would be expected to partly self-fund to get on an NHS treatment pathway.’
A spokesperson for NHS Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “The CCG Policy for Assisted Reproduction Treatment applies to all patients.
“The policy does not differentiate based on sexuality to ensure equality of access. It would not be appropriate to comment on individual patient circumstances.
“The CCG will fund fertility treatment where absolute or relative female factor infertility has been demonstrated on appropriate investigations.
“Where absolute or relative female factor infertility has been demonstrated and the patient meets the applicable policy of BMI <30,non-smoking, and under the age of 42 years, and does not have a child/children from a previous relationship, the NHS will fund assisted fertility treatment which may include intrauterine insemination and IVF which will be discussed between the hospital and the patient if appropriate."
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.