State to fund IVF for couples which may include surrogacy
HSE set to pay for treatment which costs €4,500 per cycle
Childless couples desperately seeking costly fertility treatments may be able to avail of a State-funded scheme in a matter of months, the Sunday Independent has learned.
And a set of legal guidelines governing highly controversial fertility-related issues - ranging from embryo implantation to stem cell research - are also currently being finalised.
This landmark development will regulate a range of controversial health issues in Ireland for the first time.
Among the more contentious areas to be covered are sperm and egg and embryo donation for assisted human reproduction. The guidelines will also include surrogacy and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of embryos.
Ireland remains one of only three countries in the EU where IVF is not yet funded by the State.
This is despite the fact that around one-in-six couples here have trouble conceiving.
IVF is specifically recommended for women with absent, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes. It is also used in cases of unexplained infertility.
Treatment costs between €4,000 to €4,500 per course and is only available from private clinics.
Often several courses are needed before success, putting the treatment process outside the financial range of many families.
Last February, former Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced new funding proposals for couples unable to conceive naturally.
It has now been confirmed his successor, Simon Harris, aims to finalise the process, and has ordered Department officials to complete a review of international funding models before the end of the year.
This review, which includes countries such as the UK, will determine the most efficient system for the State to provide treatment through our public health network.
In February 2015, the government gave approval to draft a general scheme of legislative provisions, dealing with assisted human reproduction. While it was due to be finalised in the first half of this year, a Department of Health spokesperson has now confirmed it will be published in 2017.
The aim of the legislation will be to promote and ensure the health and safety of parents, others involved in the process (such as egg/sperm donors and surrogate mothers), and children who will be born as a result of assisted reproduction.
The Department also intends to conduct a public consultation on the matter.
The proposals will be submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for pre-legislative scrutiny. The spokesperson said that once the general scheme is completed, and the assisted human reproduction legislation is enacted, the State will be in a position to provide free fertility treatments.
Almost 8,000 Irish couples undergo fertility treatment every year. And while the procedures are not now provided in the Irish public health service, individuals can avail of tax relief for medical expenses and the cost of certain approved fertility medicines are covered under the Medical Card or Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS).
Internationally, figures show that about a third of patients experience a live birth after one IVF cycle, and that this rises to around 70pc of patients for those who go through three cycles.
Spurred on by the high cost of fertility treatment here, many Irish couples travel abroad for treatment.In the Czech Republic, costs are roughly half, at between €2,000 and €2,500 for one round of IVF.