Infertile women have been told they can only have IVF treatment if they are aged between 39 and a half and 40.
The ‘cruel and bizarre’ restrictions were put in place by NHS managers in North Yorkshire struggling to deal with a huge deficit at their health trust.
It could mean women with severe fertility problems to wait years for one cycle of IVF treatment.
Between the age of 35 and 40, the chance of conception for women halves - and the heart breaking delays will further reduce the chance of having a baby for dozens of women.
The rules were greeted with incredulity by charities.
Susan Seenan, from Infertility Network UK, said: ‘This policy really is one of the worst we have ever encountered amid the postcode lottery for IVF.
‘We have seen some bad policies in other parts of the country, but this is not just cruel, it is bizarre, and it flies in the face of the medical evidence that the best treatment for fertility is to start early.’
‘If you seek fertility treatment, and you are told to wait until you are almost 40, at a point when your chances of conception will be massively diminished, if there is any way you can manage to pay for it, you will seek private care.
‘The tragedy is for those couples who do not have that option.’
The severe restrictions were put in place by NHS North Yorkshire and York in order to cut its spending.
Two couples said they were forced to go private because the health trust would not fund the IVF.
They had their treatment at Leeds General Infirmary, alongside couples who lived in a neighbouring primary care trust area who received their treatment for free.
One couple from Harrogate, who now have a three-week-old daughter, following private infertility treatment, said they were ‘incredulous’ when their consultant explained why they could not receive NHS treatment.
The man, aged 40, and his wife, who is now 33, said that even their GP was not aware of the policy.
Guidance from the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence says women should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment free on the NHS, if they have had fertility problems for three years, are aged between 23 and 39, are obese and do not smoke.
The cost of three cycles is around £15,000.
But around three quarters of primary care trusts are providing less IVF treatment. Many reduce to pay for IVF treatment to women below the age of 30.
But none are as restrictive as North Yorkshire and York primary care trust, where just 16 women were given IVF treatment in the last year.
The PCT said the vast majority of those cases involved women aged between 39 years and six months and 40, but said it was possible for younger women to be granted the treatment if their circumstances were deemed to be ‘exceptional’.
Managers would not define exceptional, although families in North Yorkshire said it only covered occasions where one of the prospective parents was terminally ill.
NHS North Yorkshire and York PCT said decided to stop routinely funding IVF treatment in May 2007, as part of a plan to tackle its financial problems.
All women who were on the waiting list for treatment at the point it was frozen have now been scheduled to have IVF by September of this year.
The trust said it was currently reviewing its policy covering women referred since May 2007, and future patients.
It said it aimed to ensure that by next April it could remove its age restrictions on treatment, and offer all couples one cycle of treatment.
PCT strategy director David Cockayne said: ‘As part of our financial recovery plan, which began in early 2007, the PCT’s board had to take some very difficult decisions on what clinical priorities it would pursue.’
Of the 32,000 people who have fertility treatment each year, around three-quarters pay privately for the treatment, which has a success rate of around 25 per cent per cycle.
By Daniel Martin