Patrick Armstrong, the Island’s medical director, said the aspiration was to be able to provide a system similar to Scotland, where the government funds up to three cycles of IVF for qualifying couples regardless of their income as long as the woman is below the age of 40. For those aged 40 to 42 one cycle is funded.
Currently in Jersey only those with a combined household income of less than £34,000 get any financial help with IVF. Other patients under the age of 40 have their drugs paid for by the government, but they have to pick up the bill for the actual treatment, which runs to thousands of pounds per cycle.
The Scottish system reflects the recommendations of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Mr Armstrong said work on the funding model would begin this year but that he expected it to be a ‘three- to five-year journey’.
And he said it would require political as well as internal discussions in order to be able to establish a system similar to Scotland’s.
‘Our aspiration is to see what we can do to provide more equitable access,’ he said. ‘The ideal aspiration would be providing as much [financial help] as possible. It would be nice to achieve something along the lines of the Scottish model.
‘It will take some work to see how closely to that we can get and see what further investment might be needed, and obviously putting that into the perspective of all the pressures placed on health.’
A petition calling for IVF to be funded by Jersey’s government, as it is in other countries, is currently live and has been signed by 376 people. The JEP, meanwhile, has been asking questions about the future of the Island’s Assisted Reproduction Unit for months after it emerged that it was under review pending the retirement of consultant Neil MacLachlan, who set it up more than 30 years ago.
Today, Mr Armstrong sought to reassure patients and the public that there were plans in place to ensure the service would continue without interruption following Mr MacLachlan’s retirement at the end of this month.
An infertility expert with more than 25 years’ experience is being brought in to advise the ARU until a new consultant with an interest in the field has been employed – a process which could take four to five months.
Oxford-based Professor Enda McVeigh will work with patients remotely and will also visit the Island, but the unit will become predominantly nurse-led, with ongoing support from middle-grade doctors, Mr Armstrong said.
A specialist fertility nurse – Sue Lowbridge – has already been employed to lead the ARU, which provides fertility treatment in Jersey as well as facilitating IVF and other high-level treatment via partnerships with clinics in England and around the world.
Mr Armstrong said that waiting times for fertility services – traditionally around 16 weeks on average – were currently down to two weeks, with no dip in the number of referrals.
And the ARU could act as a test-bed for a new digital patient-record platform, with the aim of making it easier for people to access their own information and test results, return consent forms and enable better communication between specialists and clinics outside of Jersey.
‘We are continuing with the service and we are trying to use what Neil has created as a springboard into something even better,’ said Mr Armstrong.
‘He has worked incredibly hard over a very long period of time and clearly cares passionately about the service he has created – we need to protect that legacy but also make it even more accessible. And over time we can probably achieve more – as with everything in health, things move forward.’