IVF clinics face new crackdown on add-on treatments

IVF

 The HFEA has no powers to stop clinics offering questionable treatments. Photograph: Science Photo Library/Getty Images

IVF clinics are facing a further crackdown to curb take-up of expensive add-on treatments that have little proven effectiveness.

The fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is concerned about the number of clinics still offering procedures such as endometrial scratching and assisted egg hatching.

It found that the proportion offering such treatments had risen slightly last year to 86%, despite a publicity campaign warning patients there is little scientific evidence the techniques can boost the chance of having a baby.

On Wednesday the HFEA’s board will be asked to approve measures including forcing clinics to itemise the cost of such treatments and encouraging clinic staff to blow the whistle against bad practice.

A paper prepared for the board points out that the HFEA has no powers to stop clinics offering questionable treatments, but the board is asked to consider how patients can actively give consent to having an add-on treatment.

It said it wanted to “stop patients being misled (in terms of potentially exploiting unfounded expectations) by ensuring, through inspections and our own published information, that patients are provided with information that is clear and reliable.”

The HFEA has already introduced a traffic light system warning of a lack of clinical evidence about 11 add-on procedures that are typically offered by IVF clinics. Last year fertility experts and practitioners signed up to a joint statement calling for responsible use of such treatments.

The HFEA now wants to go further after finding that many patients still appear to be ignoring such warnings and requesting add-ons after reading misleading material online about their effectiveness. The regulator says “unfounded expectations” make patients vulnerable to exploitation.

The HFEA paper says: “In their desire to have a baby, many patients have indicated that they are prepared to try almost anything if there is some evidence that a particular add-on might make a difference, however small the evidence is or high the additional cost may be.”

Campaigners for fertility patients welcomed the crackdown and said they hoped it would it encourage clinics to stop falsely selling expensive optional extras.

Gwenda Burns, the head of operations at the Fertility Network, said: “For the nearly two-thirds of fertility patients who have to pay for their own fertility treatment in the UK, knowing whether or not to include fertility add-ons is a very emotionally charged and financially difficult decision to make. Patients are often very vulnerable after years trying to become parents. That’s why it is crucial for fertility clinics to behave ethically and not offer false hope or upsell treatment add-ons.

“It is only when patients are fully informed about the positives and negatives of any add-ons, plus their cost, that they can decide if this is something they are prepared to try. It is essential that fertility clinics are transparent with their patients.”

[“source=theguardian”]