The NHS is blocking access to free IVF treatment for couples who use e-cigarettes or nicotine patches. This is a new policy that at least 16 out of the 117 NHS authorities in the UK -called clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)- have introduced despite there being little evidence that ‘vaping’ harms infertility or unborn children.
Two CCGs in Devon said there was ‘insufficient evidence currently to suggest nicotine replacement therapies or electronic cigarettes have a negative effect’ on fertility treatment so ‘patients who use them should not be excluded from NHS treatment’.
The survey results came days after Public Health England advised GPs to tell patients that ‘vaping’ is far less harmful than smoking.
Research on the subject is scarce. In 2015, authors of a major US review revealed that ‘no data exists on the consequences of e-cigarette use on reproductive health, nor on e-cigarette exposure to the foetus.’
Those that support the CCGs’ move say experiments show no amount of nicotine is safe in pregnancy. But critics say it is just a cover for cost-cutting. Many CCGs already refuse to fund IVF for cigarette-smokers or those who are obese.
Last night Aileen Feeney, of charity Fertility Network, said: ‘This is another example of how health bosses are trying to ration NHS fertility services by introducing arbitrary access criteria.’
All ten CCGs across Greater Manchester have adopted a ‘no e-cig or nicotine patches’ policy for IVF applicants. Others with a similar stance include NHS Crawley, NHS Horsham and Mid-Sussex, NHS Ipswich and East Sussex, NHS West Suffolk, NHS Milton Keynes, and NHS Nene in Northamptonshire.
Professor Peter Hajek, of London’s Wolfson Institute for Preventive Medicine, said ‘vapers’ used e-cigarettes to stop smoking and warned lumping the two together risked sending out the false message that pregnant women who smoked had nothing to gain by switching to vaping. But Dr Raj Mathur, secretary of the British Fertility Society, said he could understand why some NHS bosses were refusing to fund IVF for nicotine-users, ‘when that drug is not known to be safe’ in pregnancy.