Lesbians and single women should be treated the same way as heterosexual couples in access to NHS funded fertility treatment, medical experts recommended today.

The British Fertility Society (BFS), the organisation representing professionals working with assisted conception, has issued a series of recommendations on social criteria for access to NHS-funded fertility treatment amid speculation of a postcode lottery in gaining support.

The BFS surveyed fertility clinics in England to establish how Primary Care Trusts (PCT’s) are implementing guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence on access to help and the best forms of treatment after doctors raised the issue in the journal Human Fertility, to be printed in September

Two years after publication of the NICE guidance, the survey results show a wide disparity of access to treatment, with little planning on how to implement the guidance in full.

The BFS makes eleven recommendations on social criteria for NHS treatment, including treating single women and same sex couples the same way as heterosexual couples.

The report says single women and same sex couples should be eligible for up to six cycles of NHS funded donor insemination treatment provided assessment of the welfare of the child has been considered.

Dr Mark Hamilton, BFS chair, said: “Continued inequality of access to treatment is unacceptable in a state-funded health service and the source of considerable distress to a great number of people with fertility problems.

“We are presenting the recommendations to the PCT’s and Local Health Boards with the intention that they provide a basis for consistent application of social as well as medical criteria for access to State funded fertility treatment in England and Wales.”

Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint, recently told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that lesbians should gain the right to fertility treatment without the stipulation of a father being present.

Dr Hamilton added, “They are similar to core recommendations currently before the health minister in Scotland. As Health Minister Caroline Flint pointed out in a recent letter to PCTs, “the persistent inequality of provision is hard to bear, and hard to understand for those affected.”

Lead author of the study, Richard Kennedy said: “The results of this survey suggest that there is no sense of any long term planning for the provision of fertility services and provide no reassurance that full implementation of the NICE guidance will be achieved as was recommended by the Secretary of State for Health over 2 years ago.

“There is considerable disparity across England and Wales in the commissioning arrangements relating to a range of social criteria applied for acceptance into NHS fertility programmes. If we are to see an end to inequity of access across the United Kingdom there must be an explicit plan for the provision of three fresh cycles of IVF and consistency in the criteria used for NHS treatment.

“The criteria we propose, if adopted by all PCT’s in England and Wales, would standardise access to treatment. We must use the findings of this survey to pursue the goal of full implementation of the NICE Guideline.”

Other recommendations include equalising waiting times, stopping NHS treatment for women over 40 and restricting obese women until their weight is reduced, as well as advising smokers about the danger of the habit.

64 licensed fertility clinics in England and Wales were surveyed in May and July 2005. 37 of the 64 units replied, these units were based in England.