Daily Archives: 2 March 2007

God’s lottery

Grant Shapps is frequently cited as one of the Tories’ brightest of bright young hopes, but if this is anything to go by, I wouldn’t get too breathless just yet.

Access to IVF on the NHS is a lottery, with different areas adopting different rules, an MP says.

Mr Shapps, whose own three children were conceived through IVF, said that PCTs were, to some extent, “playing God” – deciding who had the right to a child and who did not, based largely on the state of the PCTs’ annual budgets and deficits.

He explained: “Couples are effectively being told that they cannot have a baby while their friends on the other side of the street, who might have a similar set of circumstances, are able to obtain three cycles of IVF provided for them by the NHS.”

All of this may well be so, but how exactly does this square with Gideon Osborne’s plea yesterday about being “disciplined and responsible with public money.” It might not be a nice thing for people wanting IVF to hear, but the cost of offering fertility treatment universally on demand would be exhorbitant. In a debate about spending priorities, it is always going to lose out.

The solution is not offering universal health care, but accountability over local health budgets: replacing a postcode lottery with postcode choice. I thought the Tories were headed in that direction, but Shapps has clearly undermined this if it is the case. These sorts of headlines put pressure on governments to tighten the reins, not loosen them.

And as for going on about ‘playing God’ – IVF – healthcare for that matter – IS playing God! IVF has created a world whereby infertility is literally a death sentence in poor countries (no children means no-one to look after you in old age), and largely avoidable in the West. Invoking theology is lazy, kneejerk populism that dismisses the no doubt very real ethical dilemmas that healthcare managers have to face on a daily basis.

In short, Shapps has added nothing to the public forum apart from his own name. It looks like crusading politics, but I doubt he would ever want a government to rise to his challenge.