A couple who are desperate to have a baby are making a heartfelt appeal for donations to help them afford crucial IVF treatment, after being refused by the NHS.
Ashleigh Rushford, 24, and her fiancé Ben Duke, 20, need to raise more than £3,000 to give her a chance of becoming a mother for the first time.
She is not eligible for fertility treatment on the NHS because Ben has a young daughter from a previous relationship.
The Hadston-based couple say they are embarrassed about asking for money to help them pay to go private, but feel they have no other choice.
She has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (POS) – making it difficult to get pregnant – and has endured a string of failed fertility treatments.
Ashleigh, who also suffered an ectopic pregnancy – when an egg implants itself outside the womb and will not develop into a baby – said: “It would mean everything to be a mother.”
She added: “Because I am not eligible for NHS-funded treatment, our only option is to go private.
“One cycle of IVF is £3,000 and the drugs range from £500 to £900. There is only a 30 per cent chance of it working, but it is 30 per cent higher than the chance I have currently.”
Ben is currently studying an Open University degree, while Ashleigh looks after his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Scarlett.
Ashleigh added: “Ben and I feel embarrassed and ashamed that we have to beg and ask people for money, but we feel like we don’t have any other option. We would be so grateful for anything that anyone can give us.”
Ashleigh was diagnosed with POS in 2004, when she was just 14. Symptoms included no periods, infertility, hair loss, weight gain and oily skin.
In 2011, she started fertility treatment, but her ovaries did not respond and she endured six failed attempts.
Last year, she tried a stimulating hormone treatment called Gonal-F. It looked as though she had found success, but it ended in devastating consequences.
She said: “I had a pill to induce a bleed and I injected myself each day for three weeks. I had weekly scans and my ovaries worked. I had a final injection in March 2014 to release my egg and I fell pregnant.
“But, at eight weeks, I started bleeding. I went to hospital and I got the devastating news that I was having an ectopic pregnancy and I had to have an injection to clear my tube.”
Ashleigh was not allowed to try any more treatment for three months and during this tough time, she split with her then-partner.
Now, she is trying to have a child with fiancé Ben, but the couple have been told that they are not eligible – which Ashleigh has criticised.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that up to three IVF cycles should be available on the NHS, under certain criteria. But, provision of NHS-funded IVF treatment varies across the country and often depends on local clinical commissioning groups’ (CCG) policies, which can affect access to NHS-funded IVF treatment.
And NHS Northumberland CCG has stated it will not fund IVF if there is a child in the relationship. A spokesman said it is disappointing for people having trouble conceiving a child to be told that they are not able to receive NHS-funded assistance, but added that the policy was in place across the North East and Cumbria to ensure there is no ‘postcode prescribing’ across the region.
But devastated Ashleigh said: “It is a postcode lottery and I feel let down, because if we lived somewhere else in the country, it could all be different.
“It’s like they can play God and decide if you can have a baby. I believe the existence of a child should not be a factor that stops fertility treatment.”
Ashleigh – who has an ‘I refuse to sink’ tattoo to honour her brave fertility battle – has taken her fight to Westminster, by writing to Prime Minister David Cameron, but received a letter on his behalf saying that infertility services were an issue for local CCGs.
She is also raffling two paintings to help the cause.
In a statement, Dr John Warrington, from Northumberland CCG, said: “A single infertility policy based upon NICE guidance has been in place across the North East/Cumbria since 2010. This is to ensure there is a consistent approach to funding across the 13 clinical commissioning groups in the region. The policy states that funding can only be offered to couples where neither partner has any living children from current or previous relationships, including adopted children.”