Women undergoing private IVF treatment will be able to buy the drugs involved for bargain prices at Asda, the supermarket announced yesterday.
Its pharmacies will be the first to sell the drugs without profit - meaning that IVF patients will save up to £820 on each treatment, compared to prices charged by other chains such as Boots or Superdrug.
More and more women are being forced to go private for treatment because the NHS is cutting back on the number of IVF cycles it provides free to those with fertility problems.
Although primary care trusts are supposed to provide three free cycles, a post-code lottery means 71 per cent of primary care trusts fund only one or two, leaving women to pick up the cost of further treatment.
When women have private infertility treatment, they also have to pay for the drugs they need, such as medications which shut down the woman's hormonal cycle, stimulate the production of eggs, or mature them before they are extracted and added to sperm. They are given a prescription by the clinic they attend, which they can have made up at the store of their choice.
But a survey for Asda found that 63 per cent of people were unaware that prescription prices varied between chemists.
Asda's pharmacies will charge £1,171.41 - the supermarket's cost price - for drugs to accompany one IVF cycle. This will offer a saving of up to £820 compared with other high street pharmacies.
Asda superintendent pharmacist John Evans said: 'We know that an IVF postcode lottery means a considerable number of women will have to pay for additional cycles of treatment and lots of customers have spoken to us about the issue.
IVF - or in vitro fertilisation - is one of the fastest and most profitable branches of medicine. But the NHS usually only offers patients up to three cycles if a woman is under 40.
This is due to the huge costs involved as around 3.5million people in Britain suffer infertility at some point in their lives - putting huge financial pressures on the system.
A single cycle of IVF treatment at a private clinic is believed to cost about £5,000.
Infertility is the most common reason for women aged 20 to 45 to see their GP after pregnancy.
The failure to conceive during the three NHS cycles has led to the boom in private clinics in the UK offering the service for thousands of pounds. There are currently 115 private clinics licensed to carry out fertility treatment.
The fertility industry is worth aroound £500 million and last year produced more than 13,000 babies in the UK. The huge demand and competition from cheaper clinics abroad has pushed supermarkets to enter the market and push prices down. More than three million babies worldwide have been born from IVF.
'IVF is extremely expensive and around 40,000 women go through it every year. More than 80 per cent of our customers are women and so, naturally, we want to help to reduce the cost of IVF by offering the medication on a notforprofit basis.'
Patient organisation Infertility Network UK welcomed the announcement. Its chief executive, Clare Lewis- Jones, added: 'Many patients who should be eligible for NHS treatment are being forced to pay for private treatment due to the appalling lack of full implementation of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence fertility guidelines plus the incredibly restrictive eligibility criteria being applied by many PCTs.
'Infertility is an illness and patients deserve fair and equitable treatment for it. Infertility Network UK, in its role as lead of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign, will continue to campaign for an end to the 'postcode lottery', but in the meantime this announcement by Asda means that the cost of the drugs will be reduced, which is good news for those patients who are forced to pay for private treatment.'
A Department of Health spokesman declined to comment on the cost of private drugs, but said: 'A recent survey of every PCT in England shows the NHS is making good progress in implementing NICE guidelines and in providing fair and consistent access to IVF. 'Our figures show that 30 per cent of PCTs are providing three cycles of IVF, 23 per cent two cycles and 47 per cent one cycle. This shows significant improvements, with only two trusts out of 150 not routinely providing infertility treatment in England. 'The option to become a parent is something most of us expect to have. People who cannot conceive naturally should have access to NHS treatment, just as they would for any other clinical need.'
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