HEALTH chiefs in Oxfordshire last night promised to consider offering free IVF treatment to women over 40.

The move comes after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommended eligible women aged up to 42 should be able to take advantage of the service.

Previously just those aged 23-39 were recommended for treatment by Nice. But campaigners have criticised NHS Oxfordshire’s existing criteria – which only covers women aged between 30 and 34 inclusive – for being too restrictive.

The Primary Care Trust says IVF is a low priority and unless infertile women are in that age bracket, they have to prove they are an exceptional case to get funding.

Claire Cousins, of Grove, was refused IVF treatment despite going through the menopause at 24.

The 28-year-old is now mum to two-year-old Harry thanks to private treatment, which was offered after her plight appeared in the Oxford Mail in 2009.

She said: “Although Nice has changed its guidelines, it still comes down to the individual PCTs. I think the Oxfordshire PCT needs to let every female have the right to have one go. You go to some hospitals and have three goes.”

She added: “It is good on Nice because they are giving more women the opportunity.”

Richard MacKenzie, of Witney, and wife Jackie were turned down by NHS Oxfordshire for IVF funding because they were too young.

Mr MacKenzie, who launched a campaign against the decision in 2009 claiming ‘age discrimination,’ now has a son, Bob, thanks to a private clinic.

He said the criteria was still too restrictive for county residents and added: “The fact still remains that we fare much worse in this postcode lottery against many other counties when in comes to funding IVF.”

A full cycle of IVF can cost the NHS about £3,000.

Tim Child, consultant gynaecologist and director of the Cowley-based Oxford Fertility Unit, who helped develop the guidelines, said improvements in IVF success rates, making treatment more cost effective, had led to the revision.

Of the criteria set by NHS Oxfordshire, he added: “This is unfair for the patients and causes a huge amount of distress.

“I understand it is difficult for PCTs, or the clinical commissioning groups they will become, to take these decisions but I would really call for implementation if at all possible.”

NHS Oxfordshire spokesman Richard McCrann said: “The revised Nice guidelines around assisted conception have not yet been officially published and will be considered by commissioners.”

The new guidelines also recommend IVF treatment for eligible women who have been unable to conceive after two years.

Women who have been having artificial insemination, which can include same-sex couples, are covered by the guidelines for the first time.

The announcement comes as TV star Ant McPartlin and his wife, former Peers School pupil Lisa Armstrong, revealed they have been struggling to have a child. The 37- year-old presenter married Lisa – who grew up in Cowley – in 2006.

He said: “Lisa and I would love kids. We’re trying. It’s tougher than you think when you get a bit older.”