New 'shoebox' IVF treatment offered in UK for first time

7 October 2017, 00:22

A new, significantly cheaper treatment for IVF is being offered in the UK for the first time.

So-called "shoebox" IVF allows eggs to be fertilised and embryos developed in a container the size of a shoebox.

Doctors hope it could eventually do away with the need for expensive laboratories using large incubators, bringing down costs for patients and the NHS.

It is now being offered at a private clinic in London at £2,500 per cycle - potentially half the cost of conventional IVF which can cost upwards of £5,000.

Dr Geeta Nargund, who is carrying out the treatment, said: "We are recreating the optimal conditions and environment required for fertilisation for eggs and sperm in a test tube, in a controlled closed system.

"This is the first technology that has become available which can actually reduce the cost by 50% or even more."

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that women who meet the criteria are offered up to three rounds of IVF on the NHS, but it is up to clinical commissioning groups to decide whether to pay for it and in some parts of the country it is not available on the NHS at all.

It means for some couples private treatment is the only option and it can cost thousands, or even tens of thousands of pounds.

IVF patient Isabella Hatchard told Sky News costs can vary widely from clinic to clinic.

"I've had a cycle cost as little as £4,000 and another as much as £15,000," she said.

"It's actually quite a difficult process going through IVF, it's quite emotionally draining and I think to have certainty around the price is fantastic."

The idea for "shoebox" IVF came from a doctor who wanted to take the treatment to developing countries.

Across the globe, some 90 babies have been conceived using the new treatment, but none in the UK.

As well as being cheaper, the treatment requires women to have fewer injections.

Sarah Norcross from Fertility Fairness, which campaigns for better access to IVF, is cautiously optimistic about its future.

She said: "It could really potentially shake up the industry and how we do things, but I want to have a bit of a note of caution in that so far fewer than 100 babies in the world have been born using this technique, whereas if you think there are more than six million born through conventional IVF.

"The data isn't there yet to say how successful it will be in comparison with standard treatments."

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