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Having acknowledged that access is inequitable, I am developing a programme of work to improve the way in which NHS IVF services are provided. My hon. Friend touched on that issue. Because of the differences, and to try to ensure continuity, we are funding the leading
fertility patients support organisation, Infertility Network UK, to work with the NHS to identify and share best practice in the provision of IVF. Infertility Network UK is visiting a selection of primary care trusts, which have a range of types of provision, to explore the differences and to ensure that good practice is identified and shared. The visits are in progress. Meetings with about 12 PCTs have either taken place or are in hand, and more will be arranged.
Recognising the continuing variation in provisionmy hon. Friend touched on thatwe have extended the projects remit. In July, I announced that the NHS, with Infertility Network UK, will develop social access criteria to help PCTs to develop a standardised approach across the county for providing couples with NHS treatment. We have also announced that we will monitor IVF provision to help identify where further work is required to assist PCTs in assessing the needs of fertility patients and to deliver services in an equitable way. Many of the points that my hon. Friend touched on will be dealt with.
Monitoring has begun to examine what is happening in the different PCTs. A survey carried out through strategic health authorities asked questions about the level of IVF provision, expenditure and local access criteria. So far, the response rate has been 90 per cent.we are chasing up the remainder. We shall consider the best way of achieving long-term IVF monitoring on many of the issues that have been identified and on IVFs availability.
The replies to the survey unfortunately show continued variation from PCT to PCT, and that is frustrating for patients. That goes to the heart of the point that my hon. Friend raised about access to accurate and standardised information about the treatments. However, the vast majority of the PCTs are providing at least one cycle of IVF, although some are not transferring any embryos that have been frozen and stored. I wrote to PCTs about that when I came to office in the summer.
The survey currently shows that some 30 PCTs provide two or more cycles of IVF, and we will verify that as soon as we can. We are setting up an expert group to advise on the work, with the NHS and the Infertility Network UK. That may not go as far as my hon. Friend suggests, but it offers a good starting point. I have written to the Chairman of the Health Committee to tell him and the Committee members of our intentions. The group will have a broad remit to identify the barriers to full implementation of the NICE fertility guidance and to provide advice, support and information to overcome those barriers. There are other issues that we may need to reflect on following this debate.
As well as the discussion of NHS infertility provision in the other place, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has called for a professionally led national strategy to reduce multiple births that occur following fertility treatment and that contribute to a significant number of premature and low-weight babies. As the expert group looks at the range of issues relating to NHS IVF and provides advice, I will ask it to advise on that issue specifically, and it will have much to consider, as this brief debate indicates.
I hope that I have been able to give some indication to my hon. Friend of the progress that we are trying to
make in this important area on many of the topics that he has raised in the House this evening. I welcome his thoughtful comments in todays debate and thank him for his contribution. I assure him that in taking forward the proposals that I have outlined to the House I will reflect again on the points that he has made. As he rightly says, when the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Bill comes before the House it will offer a further opportunity to explore these matters.