NHS-FUNDED IVF treatment is to be reduced in north Essex to save money.

The North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group – which commissions health services – has agreed to restrict funding of IVF to exceptional circumstances.

Until February, the clinical commissioning group funded up to three cycles of IVF for patients up to the age of 40.

Since then, it has provided two cycles of IVF for women up to the age of 39 and one cycle for women between the ages of 40 and 42.

Now, only patients undergoing cancer treatments, or who have a disease or a condition requiring medical or surgical treatment which could make them infertile, will get IVF free.

The decision has been taken in a bid to save money after £386,000 was spent on IVF in the past year. The CCG paid for 107 treatments from 2013-2014.

However, the decision has been come under fire.

Sarah Norcross, chairman of Fertility Fairness, said one in six couples struggle to become parents.

She said: “It is shameful only the well-off in north-east Essex and mid Essex will be able to access fertility treatment.

“Fertility services should be available for everyone eligible for treatment – not just the rich.

“This is a clear example of health inequality in practice.”

Claire Owen, from Lexden, had IVF on the NHS and successfully had a baby boy, Arian, who is now 16 months old.

She said he would not be here without NHS treatment and she said she fears new couples wanting IVF will suffer if they have to go privately.

She said: “We couldn’t have afforded private treatment and to have the emotional trauma and added debt would have been awful.

“I don’t think people realise how intrusive it is and how much it affects your life – it isn’t a lifestyle choice.

“On the flip side, I do understand there is not an unlimited pot of money.”

Sam Hepplewhite, acting chief officer at North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “None of us want to make these restrictions, but we are having to do so in light of extremely challenging financial circumstances.”

The group needs to cut its costs by £14million each year for the next four years to afford its financial responsibilities.

She said: “I am sorry these proposals have been necessary.

“It is not the end of the matter – we did give an undertaking during our May board meeting any implemented restrictions would be reviewed in 12 months.

“We promise we will do this and if we do come across any further considerations, we will review the policies where necessary.”