NHS OFFICIALS are investigating a complaint that a same-sex couple were allegedly refused access to fertility treatment for religious reasons.
The couple are ‘desperate’ for a child but said a doctor delayed signing an application letter to grant them treatment. Lisa Gilligan and Amy Hyde, who have been together for seven years, said the site manager at Lambeth Street surgery in Blackburn told them it was a ‘Christian practice’ and they ‘did not believe same-sex couples should have children’.
The couple claim they waited weeks for their doctor, Tom Accialini, to forward an application for funding for insemination treatment to a specialist clinic in Manchester.
The pair, who are both 30, were initially referred to the reproductive medicine clinic at St Mary’s Hospital by the same GP a year ago after numerous attempts to conceive using a sperm donor had failed.
They underwent tests but when the results said they would need treatment, the couple say help from their GP was delayed.
Lisa said: “We decided three years ago that we really wanted to have our own family and we tried home insemination every week for two years.
“It was a really emotional process. We used a donor, who is a friend of ours, and every week we’d get our hopes up and every week we were devastated to find that it hadn’t worked.
“We thought that our doctors were there to support us but they’ve just put us through so much more pain.”
As there was no medical evidence to suggest Lisa or her donor were infertile, IUI treatment was recommended.
IUI treatment, or intrauterine insemination, is an artificial insemination treatment where sperm is directly inserted into a woman’s womb.
From the date someone is referred for treatment, there is a three-month window in which to have funding approved with a signature from their doctor, and time is running out for the couple.
Cornerstone Practice, of which Lambeth Street is part, has now apologised and agreed to send the signed letter, more than two months after the couple say the original letter was sent to Dr Accialini.
The couple say they now face an agonising wait to find out if they can still access treatment.
Lisa said: “We are just hoping that it’s not too late, otherwise we’ll have to go through this whole process again.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that if this hadn’t have happened, we could have been so close to having our own family now.
“I kept ringing and ringing but no-one would tell me anything. I rang the site manager, Mary Piper.
“At first, I was told that the letter was on the doctor’s desk, waiting to be dealt with but then Mary said they couldn’t do it.
“She said they were really sorry but they weren’t going to be able to sign the application. She said they were a Christian practice and it was against their beliefs. She said they don’t believe that same sex couples should have children.
“I just didn’t know what to say.”
After speaking to friends and family, Amy and Lisa, who live in Longridge, put in a formal complaint to NHS England.
Lisa said: “I felt like our dream had just been snatched away. When I told friends and family, they all encouraged us to fight the decision and told us it was discrimination.
“Now I just feel more angry than anything else.”
Amy said: “It just doesn’t make sense apart from anything else.
“Why, if it was against their Christian beliefs for us to have children, would they refers us for the tests in the first place?
“What would be the point of putting us through all this just to say no at the end of everything?”
Lambeth Street surgery is part of Cornerstone Practice, which also includes Shadsworth Surgery, Rhyddings Surgery in Oswaldtwistle, and Bentham Road Health Centre in Mill Hill.
The Cornerstone Practice website states: “Cornerstone Practice and Healthcare have a Christian foundation. We will never impose our beliefs on people but will treat people equally and will respect them as unique and important individuals. We will not discriminate against anyone because of their gender, sexuality, sexual preference, religion, race or age.”
A spokesman for NHS England Lancashire said: “The Lancashire Area Team has received a written complaint about this issue and is in contact with both parties and investigating the case.
“Although at the moment we cannot comment on this specific case, if a doctor is unable or unwilling to act for personal ethical reasons, he or she has a duty to ensure that a patient can still access another opinion.”
A spokeswoman for Chorley, South Ribble and Greater Preston CCG said: “In our area, funding for fertility treatment for same sex couples is available if they are eligible.
“Like heterosexual couples, they would be eligible for treatment if they are deemed as ‘sub-fertile’ and also meet specific criteria in terms of age.
“This would mean that the cycle of treatment would need to start before the female reaches the age of 40.”
Katie Stanton, practice manager at Cornerstone Practice, said: “We are sorry to hear that the patient is unhappy with the service; however we are not in a position to comment about an individual patient’s care due to patient confidentiality.”