May 20, 2023 9.00 am This story is over 10 months old

My Fertility Matters: Lincoln stepmum fighting for fairer IVF treatments

Hoping to end ‘outdated’ rules

By Local Democracy Reporter

A Lincoln woman’s tale of IVF hardship has led to a review of treatment options for aspiring parents in the East Midlands.

Sarah Curtiss, who goes by UKStepmum on Instagram, was told by a consultant that she would not be eligible for IVF on the NHS due to her partner having a child from a previous relationship.

It is one of the criteria to currently be eligible for NHS IVF treatment in Lincolnshire.

Sarah launched the My Fertility Matters campaign in April 2021, aiming to have these policies reviewed and revised, to make it “fair for all” who want IVF treatment.

“After doing more research and speaking with other step-mums on my Instagram page, we found that it was a postcode lottery across the country which didn’t feel right,” Sarah said.

Sarah and her partner have been on a long and difficult journey to reach this stage. | Photo: Sarah Curtiss

Sarah was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome as a teenager and her quest to be a mother has been a long and difficult journey.

“After meeting my partner at 20, we started trying for a baby in 2017 when I was 23, as we wanted to complete our family”, she said.

“I have an incredible stepdaughter, who is now 10 years old and have always dreamed of having a baby and being a mum.

“A baby for us is the missing jigsaw puzzle piece that connects us all together, and my stepdaughter and husband have been amazing in supporting this campaign alongside me.”

Following numerous meetings with the five Clinical Commissioning Groups in the East Midlands, a commitment has been made for internal reviews to take place into NHS IVF treatment policy.

Campaigners are hoping that this will spell an end to the “outdated” and “discriminatory” rule on children from a previous relationship.

| Photo: Sarah Curtiss

Sarah said: “It feels incredible to have got this far. I know there is still some way to go in supporting families across the country, but to potentially help hundreds of families in the East Midlands makes me ridiculously proud.

“The Director of Nursing at Lincolnshire’s CCG ended our conversation with the words: ‘You have made a difference and I think it’s important you know that’ – and I couldn’t be happier to have potentially prevented families feeling the way I have in the past.

“I’m happy to say Lincolnshire and the East Midlands are ahead of many CCGs in the country and have been fantastic in understanding that the current policy is outdated and needed to be reviewed, and I hope others who currently have these discriminatory policies in place learn from the East Midlands in moving forwards.

“Ultimately we want to remove that postcode lottery across the country and have a fair system in the UK for families going through fertility treatment and IVF.

“When you go through problems conceiving, there are already so many barriers in the way, you feel you are at war with your own body and times and to have outdated policies can be another barrier – so I’m proud to see this being resolved.”

A spokesperson for Lincolnshire Integrated Care Board said: “We are part of a midlands-wide IVF policy which has not changed as yet but is currently being reviewed, a process we expect to take six months.

“This review of fertility policies will encompass all five East Midlands ICBs and the work will include the following:

  • Undertake the review informed by recognised Public Health and Population Health Management (PHM) approaches and methodologies
  • Address options for treatment regimes, taking account of all extant arrangements and NICE guidelines
  • Consider any inequalities and the risks and benefits of mitigation
  • Develop an option appraisal, to deliver the best population health outcomes  
  • Produce an evidence base of analysis in support of any future consultation.
  • Provide a set of recommendations for the East Midlands ICBs to consider.

“We would consider by exception any appeal made on the grounds of a partner having a child from a previous relationship, but this is not the same as a policy change yet.”

While no final decision has been made yet, Sarah is still delighted with the progress her campaign has prompted.

Her message to families across Lincolnshire and the East Midlands in similar positions to her, is simple: “Never give up hope.”

She adds: “Ask for support and advice, no question is a silly question. Fertility and IVF can be so overwhelming and the more support you can receive the better.

“I have met some incredible families on this journey and at times, campaigning has been really difficult as I’ve had to bring very personal elements of my life at the forefront to make a difference so I am thankful for what we have achieved together.”

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