Ireland gets ‘exceptionally poor’ score for access to fertility treatments

Ireland has come in 40th place out of a possible 43 in a new index of countries in terms of access to fertility treatments, earning it a rating of “exceptionally poor”.

The comparative map of European states graded countries on legal access to fertility treatments, the funding and reimbursement of fertility treatments and the patients’ perspective. The index was published by Fertility Europe, along with the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Ireland scored 27% in the index, with only Poland, Armenia and Albania scoring lower. Ireland lost marks for its lack of funding for IVF and lack of legal provision for assisted reproduction.

Ireland is one of only two countries in the EU which doesn’t provide any funding for couples or individuals for treatments such as IVF. A single round of IVF can cost €5,000 in Ireland, but with associated costs for some patients for the likes of egg retrieval and embryo storage the price can soar beyond €10,000 for some.

In the programme for government published last year by the FF-FF-Green coalition, it committed to introduce a publicly-funded model of care for fertility treatment. However, such a model has yet to be implemented.

The researchers defined what a “perfect” country would look like in terms of supports and access to fertility treatment.

This included full funding for treatment for patients across the whole country, access to treatment and donor treatments to all who need it, psychological support funded as part of fertility treatment and the State organising and funding fertility education in schools.

Four countries – Belgium, France, Israel and the Netherlands – were given a score between 81% to 100% and rated excellent. Most other EU countries ranked between 61% and 80% in the index.

Financial discrimination

Anita Fincham, co-author of the study, said that it was the lack of assisted reproduction legislation that helped to push Ireland into the “exceptionally poor” category.

Researchers said that not providing fertility treatment funding helped to perpetuate a stigma around fertility problems, deepened a lack of understanding of these issues, and heightened the financial discrimination of infertility patients. The researchers recommended a number of measures to improve access to fertility treatments across Europe.

It said the universal right to try to have a child must be recognised across the EU. It also said public funding should be provided for all lines of fertility treatments, along with communication campaigns to remove the stigma associated with infertility.

The report was launched today by Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald. She described Ireland’s poor performance in the index as “very worrying but reflective of the current situation for Irish people”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil, via parliamentary question, last week that the drafting of a bill on assisted human reproduction and associated areas is “being finalised by officials in my department, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General”.

He said that the model of care for infertility comprises three stages, starting in primary care, extending into secondary care and tertiary care where necessary. In the tertiary stage, patients can be referred on for IVF and similar treatments.

The roll-out of regional fertility hubs in each of the six hospital groups in the country is not expected to be completed until late 2022. Mr Donnelly said the roll-out of IVF in the public health system will not commence until such time as infertility services at secondary level have been developed across the country.