1 year after search began, N.L. government announces pick to review IVF services

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says a report on the province's needs and capacity for fertility services is due in early 2024. Image taken in St. John's on Oct. 30, 2023. (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says a report on the province's needs and capacity for fertility services is due in early 2024. Image taken in St. John's on Oct. 30, 2023. (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says a report on the province's needs and capacity for fertility services is due in early 2024. Image taken in St. John's on Oct. 30, 2023.
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says a report on the province's needs and capacity for fertility services is due in early 2024. Image taken in St. John's on Oct. 30, 2023.

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says a report on the province's needs and capacity for fertility services is due in early 2024. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Nearly a year after Newfoundland and Labrador announced a request for proposals to review the province's fertility services  the government has awarded the contract to a Halifax-based market research firm that opened a St. John's office in 2021.

Health Minister Tom Osborne said Monday the service review will look at what fertility services are needed and what can be "viably" offered by the provincial government.

"It's important that we get this right," he said. "There is a number of individuals who have a diagnosis of infertility and they are looking for enhanced services in the province."

Premier Andrew Furey promised during the 2021 election campaign that the province would begin offering in vitro fertilization services.

The province subsequently followed through on a pledge to a provide $5,000 subsidy to help those who must leave the province to avail of IVF. But full IVF services remain unavailable in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In November 2022 — more than a year and a half after that election promise — the province announced a request for proposals for a review of fertility services. The provincial government reissued it in June of this year, saying only one proposal was submitted and it didn't meet all of the government's requirements.

The health minister said Monday he wasn't sure how many proposals were received through the second request but all would have been evaluated by the province's procurement agency. The contract has been awarded and work has started, he said.

The $122,435 contract has gone to Thinkwell Research + Strategy, a Halifax-based firm that expanded services into St. John's in 2021.

Using an outside firm for the review, rather than doing the work in-house, will allow an objective assessment of what can or should be done, said Osborne.

"Quite frankly, officials were saying we don't have the … population to increase services, the specialists were saying we have enough population to increase," he said.

"I want the right advice, I want the answers. I want to look at this objectively, so it was my decision to go to an RFP to look for advice on what services can be provided in this province, what services should be provided in this province, what the population can support."

A year ago, two fertility specialists in the province told CBC News they have been trying for years to offer IVF in Newfoundland and Labrador but said the government has ignored them and they don't know why.

Report expected in early 2024

Consultations will include fertility specialists, staff, people who have experience with IVF issues and the general public, he said. Thinkwell's report is due in winter 2024, raising the question of whether any recommendations will be reflected in the 2024 budget, expected in early spring.

Osborne acknowledged budget submissions generally come in November through January but said it's possible there could be action on any IVF recommendations in the 2024 budget.

"It really depends on how quickly they get back with the information," he said.

"There is time in the first couple of months in the new year to look at initiatives. We have seen initiatives in previous years closer to budget time based on the initiative and the funding, but, you know, certainly we're within the window of looking at budget submissions now."

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