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08/07/2024 - 4 min read

Understanding the NHS Referral Process for Fertility Treatment

Care Team

At Care Fertility, we're dedicated to helping everyone achieve their dream of starting or expanding their family, regardless of their background or circumstances. As the largest provider of NHS-funded fertility treatments in the UK, with contracts covering 32 of 42 Integrated Care Bodies (ICBs) and treating over 2000 NHS patients annually, we strive to ensure everyone has access to quality care. This guide will walk you through the NHS referral process:

What is the NHS referral process? 
The NHS referral process is how you get access to fertility assessments and treatments funded by the NHS. It starts with seeing your GP, who will assess your situation and refer you to a gynaecology clinic that specialises in reproductive medicine or directly to a fertility clinic like Care Fertility. Here further investigations may be undertaken and/or a treatment plan will be put in place.  

Who can access NHS fertility treatment? 
Eligibility for NHS-funded fertility treatment is determined by criteria set by your local ICB. Factors like age, BMI, how long you've been trying to conceive, and whether you have children already may affect eligibility. 

NHS Funding and the ‘Postcode Lottery’ 
Unfortunately, NHS funding for fertility treatment can vary significantly from region to region, which can make it feel like a postcode lottery. Each ICB has its own budget and guidelines for fertility treatment funding, leading to differences in eligibility criteria and number of treatments funded per patient. Some people may not be eligible due to these regional variations, which can be frustrating and disheartening. Even if you aren’t eligible for funding for fertility treatment or your ICB don’t provide funding you are still entitled to have your investigations on the NHS if referred by your GP. 

Why some people aren't eligible 
Common reasons for ineligibility include: 

  • Age restrictions: Regions have strict age limits for NHS-funded fertility treatment, the average is 40 years old, but some are as low as 35 and others as high as 43. 

  • Previous children: Either partner having children from a current or previous relationship can affect eligibility. 

  • Duration of infertility: Criteria may require a minimum period of trying to conceive before NHS funding is considered. This tends to be around 2 years of having unprotected sex for a heterosexual couple. However, it is recommended a couple be referred for fertility investigations if they don’t conceive within 1 year of trying. Where either partner is diagnosed with a known fertility factor, they don’t usually need to also wait 2 years. 

  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, and other lifestyle choices may impact eligibility. 

  • Body Mass Index (BMI): In most cases a BMI within the range of 19-30 is required to be eligible. 

  • LGBTQ+ considerations: LGBTQ+ individuals and couples may face additional challenges in accessing NHS-funded fertility treatment, depending on local guidelines and interpretations of eligibility criteria. Sadly, surrogacy is rarely funded and where there is no diagnosed fertility factor for the partner providing the eggs 6 self-funded rounds of IUI are often required prior to eligibility.  

Navigating these criteria can be complex, but Care Fertility is committed to helping you understand your options and advocating for equitable access to fertility care. 

Steps in the NHS referral process 

  1. Your GP appointment: Make an appointment with your GP to talk about your fertility concerns. They'll do some initial tests and assessments and dependent of these results may do an onward referral 

  2. Onward referral: 
    Pathway 1 Onward referral to Care Fertility: If more tests or treatment are needed, in some regions your GP can refer you directly to Care Fertility. Here, our specialists will do thorough tests like blood tests, ultrasound scans, and semen analysis to find out what's causing any fertility problems.  

    Pathway 2 Onward referral to a secondary care provider:
    These are usually based in hospitals and often called reproductive medicine or sub-fertility clinics. As with a referral direct to Care Fertility they may conduct further tests. Where they identify a form of fertility treatment is required, they will do an onward referral to a specialist fertility clinic, like Care Fertility! As part of this process, they or the fertility clinic may apply for funding on your behalf. 

Find your out whether your local clinic has an ICB contract by clicking here. Let your GP know that you want to be referred to Care Fertility. 

  • Support and care: Our team understands that fertility treatment is an incredibly tough time emotionally. We're here to support you through every step with kindness and understanding. 

  • Fair treatment: At Care Fertility, we believe everyone deserves a chance to start a family. We're committed to providing fair and equal access to the best fertility care. 

Choosing Care Fertility for your NHS referral 
Care Fertility isn't just a private fertility clinic – we're here to help you on your fertility journey. With our expertise and dedication, we're ready to support you in achieving your dream of parenthood. 

Contact us today 
If you're thinking about NHS-funded fertility treatment, get in touch with us. We’re here to guide you through the NHS referral process and support you every step of the way.