IVF clinics come under scrutiny in the UK

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK is to investigate private IVF clinics. This addresses a wave of public concern that clinics are exaggerating success rates and mis-selling add-on treatments.

This is the first time that IVF clinics, representing a business value over £320m, have come under scrutiny in the UK. The average price for a private IVF cycle in the UK is around £5,000. This compared to other countries seems good value. But the selling or mis-selling of add-ons can take this figure up to £20,000.

So, what are these add-ons?

Many clinics suggest patients consider expensive additional treatments such as pre-implantation genetic screening. This checks the chromosomes of conceived embryos for genetic conditions. But patients can often be unaware that these add-ons while potentially having merit, do not increase the likelihood of successful live birth.

What are the other issues?

The other issues of concern to the CMA are:

  • The upfront lack of transparency with regard to costs
  • Exaggeration of success rates
  • Unfair terms and conditions.

Obviously, these concerns do not apply to every private IVF clinic in the UK! And the problems could stem from the fact that there is little official guidance on how IVF clinics conduct themselves.

Currently no written guidance on consumer protection law for the IVF

In fact, in the UK, there is currently no written guidance on consumer protection law for the IVF sector. So, the CMA intend to address this by issuing guidelines later this year. It has said that it will not rule out taking enforcement action in the future.

A CMA spokesperson said, “Going through or exploring potential fertility treatments can be a stressful and emotional experience. People are having to make decisions in challenging circumstances. As such, it is important that clinics provide all the necessary information on treatments to allow patients to make informed choices.”

Doing nothing would be wrong

Professor Peter Thompson, head of the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, welcomed the move. Speaking at the recent Fertility 2020 Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, he said, “It seems to me that doing nothing would be wrong, first and most importantly because some patients are being misled. Some patients are having unnecessary tests and treatments. Some of them are paying a lot of money for those tests and treatments, and that can’t be right.”

HFEA welcome the move

In addition, the HFEA wants IVF health care professionals selling add-on treatments to declare that they have a financial interest upfront. An HFEA spokesman said, “We welcome the work that the Competition and Markets Authority is doing to develop guidance for IVF clinics in the UK.”

From the patient perspective an increase in transparency and more honesty with regard to costs and success can only be welcomed. Patients seem to agree. Speaking to a UK national newspaper, one said, “You need to know the risks, the success rates, the failure rates. The more information you can have, and the more compassion there is in the delivery of that information, the better.”

The CMA has set up a webpage where UK patients can have their say and share their experiences of IVF in advance of the CMA issuing guidelines later this year.

Visit the CMA webpage here.