Starting a family for any couple is an exciting new adventure, but for LGBTQI+ couples it is a hugely costly process, both financially and emotionally.
Dubbed the LGBTQI+ fertility tax, it is significantly harder for a lesbian, bi-women or some trans people in a same-sex relationship to access NHS fertility treatment even though they are unable to conceive naturally. In some cases, they are asked to prove that they have attempted to get pregnant up to twelve times before some CCGs will grant them access to free fertility treatment on the NHS.
In the Jarrow constituency that I represent, the CCG requires same-sex couples to have to prove infertility by self-funding six rounds of artificial insemination (IUI) themselves before they can access NHS funded IVF. Often this results in these couples having to post-pone plans of starting a family in order to save up for initial fertility treatments – all without the guarantee that the IUI will be successful and each round costing between £350-£1,600.
This policy creates unfair and significant barriers for those hoping to become parents, in particular for lesbians, bi women and some trans people. The huge cost of fertility treatments alone is a lot to bear, but such a high price and no guarantee of success, the emotional toll of this costly process is enormous. It is absolutely vital that the government step in and ensure that there is equitable access to NHS fertility services for all, regardless of gender and sex.
Further adding to the unfairness, each local CCG has the discretion to choose how to delegate NHS funding, meaning access to NHS fertility services has become a postcode lottery, as provisions differ between areas and in some areas, same-sex couples have to go through up to twelve rounds of private IUI or IVF before being granted access to free NHS fertility services. There is no uniform policy across the country.
Opposite-sex couples are given access to NHS fertility treatment after attempting to conceive unsuccessfully for two years, while this alone can be a hugely challenging and emotional process as prospective parents, LGBTQI+ couples are facing unnecessary financial challenges alongside the emotional aspect of it. It should not be the case that a same-sex couple is limited in their ability to start a family when an opposite-sex couple has access to the same services without the cost. Nearly four in five CCGs require LGBTQI+ couples to self-fund multiple rounds of artificial insemination, in the Jarrow constituency for example, LGBTQI+ couples have to pay up to £9,600 before they can access NHS services, while those in different-sex couples do not have to pay anything.
We all know that having children and starting a family costs money, but lesbians, bi-women, and other LGBTQI+ couples are having to pay extortionate amounts unfairly when different-sex couples are not paying the same financial cost to conceive through IUI or IVF. The way the current system is set out, only LGBTQI+ couples who are able to self-fund, are able to have children, as many are without access to the services they need in order to start a family.
Stonewall have launched their campaign to make access to IVF equal for LGBTQI+ people, calling for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to act now to ensure that the additional unnecessary barriers LGBTQI+ people face when starting a family are removed, and demanding equal access to fertility services for all LGBTQI+ people.
It is absolutely unacceptable that these unfair barriers remain in place for same-sex couples who want to start their own families. We cannot allow the LGBTQI+ fertility tax to continue. It is vital that the government commit to a full review of the inequality in access to NHS-funded fertility services across England and the CCG postcode lottery is ended, ensuring that all CCGs provide equal access to treatment to ensure that lesbians, bi-women, trans people and anyone who identifies as LGBTQI+ who wants to conceive, has the same equal access to NHS funded care as opposite-sex couples.