Thousands of infertile women are being denied a £4 drug which could triple their chance of getting pregnant, new research suggests.
The NHS rationing body has rejected use of the treatment, combined with insemination, for women with unexplained infertility.
Controversial guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that couples in this situation should just keep trying for two years, then have IVF.
But new research presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Geneva shows that the drugs – which can cost as little as £4 per cycle – massively increase the chance of pregnancy.
Nice said they now planned to update their guidance in light of the latest research.
The study by University of Auckland tracked more than 200 couples.
Half were given insemination treatment, with cheap pills which stimulate the egg production. The other half were given standard NHS advice – to just keep trying for two years.
After just a year, 31 per cent of those given the treatment called intrauterine stimulation (IUI) had a baby – compared with 9 per cent among those left to keep trying.
The treatment is designed to improve fertility rates by stimulating egg production in the ovaries and injecting sperm directly into the womb.
Approx 900,000 couples a year – around quarter of all those with infertility problems – have unexplained infertility.
Last night fertility experts urged NHS rationing bodies to rewrite their advice, saying it was “unacceptable” to leave infertile couples to “wait and see” when time was running out.
Lead researcher Prof Cindy Farquhar, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecologist, from the University of Auckland, said: “I really would hope Nice will look at this now. Asking women to ‘just keep trying’ is pretty unpopular.”
Prof Farquhar, who works for Fertility Plus, in Auckland, said many couples could benefit from help which was less invasive than IVF.
“IVF has such a burden physically and emotionally. IUI is a lower impact – a slow but steady approach without such an emotional and physical burden,” she said.
Dr Gillian Lockwood, executive director IVI, said the Nice guidance had been very controversial, and should now be rewritten.
“The evidence on this is very compelling,” she said.
“Many practitioners believe it should be offered,” she added. “Most couples find it unacceptable to be told to keep trying for two years when they are likely to have already been trying for years, and to fear they are reaching the end of the road.”
“It’s one thing if you are 27 or 28 to be told to keep trying for a couple of years – if you are 35 that is much more difficult,” she said.
The decision by Nice had forced many patients to pay for treatment which previously had been provided by the NHS, she said.
Although the drug costs can be as little as £4 per cycle, if a patient has to pay for it, the private treatment, including scans and consultations can cost as much as £1,800.
A Nice spokesman said there were plans to update their guidance taking into account latest research, including this paper.
He said: “Other research has already been considered and means this guideline will be updated.
“This new paper will be considered as part of that update.”