Crackdown on UK fertility clinics

UK citizens generally enjoy considerable protection under consumer law, but areas such as private healthcare are under review. Fertility services in particular are under the watchful eye of the UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA). This government department is responsible for preventing anti-competitive activities in business. Last February the CMA announced that it was looking into the UK fertility industry for two reasons:

  • A lack of price transparency
  • Misleading claims about success rates.

Since then it has worked closely with the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to develop new draft guidelines. The CMA also consulted with the fertility clinics, patients, fertility healthcare professionals and professional bodies.

Peter Thompson, CEO, HFEA said, “The majority of patients self-fund their fertility treatment in the UK. It is vital that they receive the right information at the right time and that clinic practices are fair under consumer law. This is good news for patients and will help them at a time when they are making difficult decisions.”

The new guidelines

Firstly, the CMA guidance specifies that fertility clinics should provide material information to patients at all stages of their IVF journey. This enables them to make informed decisions. They then highlight four areas that require attention:

  • Transparency of treatment costs
  • How treatment add-ons are advertised
  • The accuracy of success rates and how they are presented to patients
  • The general terms and conditions of fertility treatment.

The Progress Educational Trust (PET) is a UK charity that advances public understanding of science, law and ethics in the fields of assisted reproduction. They commented, “It is a crying shame that fertility treatment is an area of medicine where patients are often treated like consumers. Therefore, patients are in need of protection. For years PET has been calling for action on some of the issues the CMA is trying to tackle. Such as advertising unrealistically low prices, presenting a treatment as medically necessary, also claiming higher success rates and not being clear about add-on treatments.”

The draft guidance is under consultation until January 2021, with the final guidelines set to be published in March 2021. IVF patients will also be able to access a short CMA guide to IVF services to raise awareness of their consumer rights. Once the guidelines are published the CMA will be able under law to consider enforcement action if they find evidence that fertility clinics’ practices or terms are unfair.

You can read the draft guidance here.