Navigating IVF on the NHS

We’re breaking down the postcode lottery to help you work out if you’re eligible for free treatment.
Amber Izzo tells her personal story – Gaia Blog

If you need help having a child, you might consider turning to the NHS for free IVF. 

There’s a wealth of information out there on who’s eligible, but it can be hard to find – and even harder to understand. 

We know that choosing the best path for you when trying to conceive can be difficult. This guide aims to help you make an informed decision by being your one source of truth, dispelling the mystery around IVF on the NHS. 

Can you get IVF on the NHS? 

In short, yes, you can have IVF on the NHS. But gaining access to NHS fertility treatment isn’t easy – it’s a postcode lottery and there are a number of criteria you must meet before the NHS will offer it to you.

It’s also important to know that although NHS treatment is free, in many cases you’ll need to provide proof of self-funded cycles before you can apply. 

What are the NHS IVF criteria?

In 2013, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released updated recommendations clearly outlining who should receive IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales.

Unfortunately, it’s not mandatory for the NHS to follow these guidelines. This means that it’s actually within the power of local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to set their own criteria and ultimately make the final decision on who can receive IVF in their area.

The recommendations outlined by NICE suggest that:

  • Women aged 39 and younger should have access to three full cycles of IVF treatment.
  • Women aged between 40 and 42 who have never had IVF treatment and who do not have a low ovarian reserve should be able to access one full cycle of IVF.

Shockingly, recent statistics from NICE show that over 80% of CCGs fail to provide the number of recommended cycles.

An example where recommendations have been ignored can be seen across Berkshire West, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, plus some areas within Frimley. In these areas, IVF is only offered until the age of 35, rather than the NICE recommended age of 39 or 40.

What are the most common CCG criteria?

As well as your age, there are additional CCG criteria that you may need to meet to qualify for IVF on the NHS. These include: 

  • not having any children already (from either a current or previous relationship);
  • being a <z tooltip="Most CCGs will only offer IVF if your BMI is under 30.">healthy weight</z>;
  • being a non-smoker;
  • having a good <z tooltip="Ovarian reserve is the number of good-quality eggs in the ovaries.">ovarian reserve</z>.

Although these criteria seem clear, specific conditions can vary based on your location, making the process of applying for IVF on the NHS incredibly confusing and frustrating.

Navigating the IVF postcode lottery

Adding another layer to the confusion is the question of how many cycles you’ll be offered on the NHS. Some areas will offer only one cycle of IVF, while others will offer two or three.

The CCG directory from NHS England tells you how many cycles the NHS might offer you, but it can be difficult to interpret.

To help you break it down, we’ve split the data to reflect how many cycles of IVF are offered in each area of England. When looking for your area, remember that your CCG is based on the location of your GP Practice, rather than your own home address. 

Areas offering 1 cycle

  • Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire
  • Berkshire West
  • Birmingham and Solihull
  • Blackburn and Darwin
  • Black Country and West Birmingham
  • Blackpool 
  • Bolton
  • Bradford District and 
  • Bracknell, Royal Borough of Windsor, Maidenhead and Slough 
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Bury
  • Calderdale
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Cannock Chase
  • Cheshire
  • Chorley, Ribble and SouthWestern
  • Coventry and Warwickshire
  • Craven
  • Derby and Derbyshire
  • Devon
  • Dorset
  • East and North Hertfordshire
  • East Lancashire
  • East Leicestershire and 
  • East Staffordshire
  • Rutford
  • East Riding of Yorkshire
  • Fylde & Wyre
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Preston
  • Halton
  • Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight
  • Herefordshire and 
  • Herts Valleys
  • Worcestershire
  • Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale
  • Kernow
  • Kirklees
  • Leeds
  • Leicester City
  • Lincolnshire
  • Manchester
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • North Hampshire
  • North Lincolnshire
  • ​​North West London
  • North Yorkshire
  • Northamptonshire
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
  • Oldham
  • Oxfordshire
  • Sheffield
  • Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin
  • Somerset
  • South East London
  • South East Staffordshire & Seisdon Peninsula
  • South West London
  • Southend
  • Stafford and Surrounds
  • Trafford
  • Vale of York
  • Wakefield
  • Warrington
  • West Essex
  • West Lancashire
  • West Leicestershire

Areas offering 2 cycles

  • Barnsley 
  • Brighton and Hove
  • Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire
  • Castle Point and Rochford
  • Doncaster
  • East Sussex
  • Farnham
  • Ipswich and East Suffolk
  • Kent and Medway
  • Liverpool
  • Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes
  • Morecambe Bay
  • Norfolk and Waveney
  • North East Essex
  • North Staffordshire
  • Portsmouth
  • Rotherham
  • Salford
  • St Helen's
  • Stoke on Trent
  • Stockport
  • Surrey Heartlands
  • Surrey Heath
  • Thurrock
  • West Suffolk
  • West Sussex
  • Wigan Borough
  • Wirral

Areas offering 3 cycles

  • Bassetlaw
  • County Durham
  • Hull
  • Knowsley
  • Newcastle Gateshead
  • North Central London
  • North Cumbria
  • North Tyneside
  • Northumberland
  • South Sefton
  • South Tyneside
  • Southport and Formby
  • Sunderland
  • Tameside and Glossop
  • Tees Valley

Can same-sex couples have IVF on the NHS?

Some areas of England offer IVF to same-sex couples. But additional criteria may apply depending on your location, making the barrier to entry that much higher. 

For instance, in South East London, <z tooltip="IUI) is a type of fertility treatment when sperm is directly inserted into a woman's womb.">intrauterine insemination (IUI)</z> for female same-sex couples is only offered after a total of 12 self-funded attempts at IUI over a period of at least 12 months. 

Meanwhile, same-sex couples in Hull may be offered treatment after six self-funded rounds of IUI.

CCGs in England that may offer IVF to same-sex couples

It’s important to note that although this list seems extensive, it is still rare for same-sex couples to be offered IVF on the NHS. 

  • Barnsley
  • Bassetlaw
  • Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire - bswccg
  • Berkshire West (female only)
  • Black Country and West Birmingham
  • Blackpool (female only)
  • Bolton
  • Bradford District and Craven
  • Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire
  • Buckinghamshire (female only)
  • Bury (female only)
  • Calderdale (female only)
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Cannock Chase (female only)
  • Cheshire
  • Chorley/Ribble and South Western (female only)
  • Derby and Derbyshire (female only)
  • Devon
  • Doncaster
  • Dorset (females only)
  • East and North Hertfordshire 
  • East Lancashire (female only)
  • East Leicestershire and Rutford
  • East Riding of Yorkshire
  • East Staffordshire
  • East Sussex
  • Frimley (female only)
  • Fylde and Wyre
  • Gloucestershire (female only)
  • Greater Preston (female only)
  • Halton (female only)
  • Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight (female only)
  • Herefordshire and Worcestershire (female only)
  • Hertz Valleys
  • Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale (female only)
  • Hull 
  • Ipswich and East Suffolk
  • Kent and Medway
  • Kernow
  • Kirklees
  • Knowsley
  • Leicester City
  • Lincolnshire
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • North Lincolnshire
  • North Staffordshire
  • North Tyneside
  • North West London
  • North Yorkshire
  • Northamptonshire
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
  • Oldham
  • Portsmouth (female only)
  • Rotherham
  • Salford (female only)
  • Sheffield
  • Somerset
  • South East London
  • South East Staffordshire and Seisdon Peninsula (female only)
  • South Sefton (female only)
  • South Tyneside
  • South West London (female only)
  • St Helen’s (female only)
  • Stafford and Surrounds
  • Stockport
  • Stoke on Trent (female only)
  • Sunderland
  • Surrey Heartlands (female only)
  • Tameside and Glossop
  • Tees Valley
  • Thurrock
  • Trafford (female only)
  • Vale of York
  • Wakefield
  • Warrington 
  • West Essex
  • West Lancashire (female only)
  • Wigan Borough (female only)
  • Wirral

Can a single woman have IVF on the NHS?

As with same-sex couples, the criteria for single women seeking IVF on the NHS can vary widely. For example, in South West London, a single woman must have had a total of 12 attempts at IUI over a period of at least 12 months before being offered NHS treatment. In Cheshire, a single woman would need to provide evidence of six unsuccessful cycles. 

CCGs in England that may offer IVF to single women

Even though many CCGs claim to offer IVF to single women, it’s very rare that this actually happens. 

  • Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire
  • Berkshire West
  • Black Country and West Birmingham
  • Bolton
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Cheshire
  • Chorley/Ribble and South Western
  • Derby and Derbyshire
  • East Lancashire 
  • Fylde and Wyre
  • Greater Preston
  • Halton
  • Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight
  • Herefordshire and Worcestershire
  • Herts Valleys
  • Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale
  • Kent and Medway
  • Knowsley
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • North West London
  • Oldham
  • Portsmouth
  • South East London
  • South Sefton
  • South West London
  • Southport and Formby
  • St Helen’s
  • Stockport
  • Surrey Heartlands
  • Tameside and Glossop
  • Trafford
  • Warrington 
  • West Lancashire
  • West Leicestershire
  • West Suffolk
  • Wirral

Can you have IVF on the NHS if you already have a child?

In most cases, IVF is not offered to those who already have a biological or adopted child. This is also the case if that child is from a partner's previous relationship.

In some areas, this criteria differs so you may be offered treatment if one of you has a child from a previous relationship. This does not apply if both partners have a child from a previous relationship. 

Single women are not eligible for IVF on the NHS if they already have a child.

Areas that may offer IVF if one partner has a child

  • Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire
  • Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire
  • Bury
  • Dorset
  • Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale
  • Kernow
  • Manchester
  • North Central London
  • Oldham
  • South East London
  • Salford

What are the NHS IVF waiting times?

The process of getting IVF on the NHS can take a long time. How long you’ll wait can vary depending on your circumstances, but realistically it could take anywhere from six months to a few years. 

In most cases, you need to have been trying to conceive for at least a year without success to even be considered for NHS treatment. You’ll also need to jump through the many criteria hoops set by your CCG, which in some areas can include providing proof that you’ve already gone through several rounds of self-funded treatment. 

Prior to getting funding, you’ll need to have a number of scans and tests to check you’re eligible for treatment, which can also take months to have done. 

How do you apply for NHS funding?

If the criteria used by your CCG don’t match the NICE recommendation, you can request funding for additional NHS funded cycles. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has some useful resources that can help you request funding from your CCG, and make an appeal if funding is refused.

What to do if you’re not eligible

“We felt like we’d hit a brick wall when we didn't qualify for NHS funding. One email to Gaia later, and we’re on our second round.”
Lyndsey, Gaia Member

We know that receiving the treatment you need to start a family on the NHS is incredibly difficult. And it can be heartbreaking to be turned away.

At this stage, you might be weighing up alternative options, such as IVF financing, or paying for IVF using your savings. But the cost of IVF in the UK isn’t always clear, so self-funding can be extremely daunting.

At Gaia, we believe everyone who wants a family should have the chance to try. The difference between having a child or not shouldn’t be how rich you are. So we created IVF insurance to help you plan, pay for and protect your IVF journey.

With a Gaia Plan, we cover all essential treatments from the stimulation phase onwards so you never have to use your credit card at your clinic once your IVF treatment has begun.

Fund your IVF journey with a Gaia Plan

Find out how Gaia can help you pay for IVF.
Discover Gaia