IVF patients pressured over 'add-ons' at fertility clinics, regulator says
IVF patients are being put under pressure to decide whether to take "add-ons" provided by fertility clinics, the head of the industry regulator has said.
Sally Cheshire, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said it had limited powers to stop clinics offering the extra treatments, but was working to provide clarity to patients on whether they are effective.
Last year, a Panorama investigation found that m ost add-on treatments offered in UK clinics are of no benefit when it comes to improving the chances of having a baby.
Some 26 of 27 add-ons were found to have no high-quality evidence from trials to back claims they increased IVF success rates.
Add-on treatments can include extra procedures, additional drugs or devices and can cost from £100 to £3,000 on top of standard fertility care.
Ms Cheshire, speaking at an event hosted by the charity Progress Educational Trust (PET), said: "UK fertility clinics generally provide excellent patient care.
"However, an increasing number of patients tell us they feel unsure about IVF treatment add-ons, whether they work and are worth the extra cost.
"This puts pressure on patients to make difficult decisions at what is already a stressful time for them.
"We are concerned about the recent step change in the use of treatment add-ons, but unfortunately have limited powers to stop clinics offering them, nor to control pricing.
"We already publish information about treatment add-ons for patients and are currently working with our scientific committee to produce new information on a wider range of add-ons.
"This will introduce a simple labelling system to highlight their levels of effectiveness and potential harm so that patients are better-informed to make the right decision about their treatment.
"We're going to continue working with fertility specialists over the coming months to make sure that patients get the high-quality treatment they deserve."
Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, will also speak at the debate.
He said: " It is important to define what is meant by an add-on, as there has been a lot of confusion and many so-called add-ons are in reality part of standard treatments.
"The treatment of infertility has evolved in the UK without adequate funding for research and innovation, so the big question is: when should new treatments be introduced into clinical practice, and how should they be paid for?"
Dr Simon Fishel, founder and president of the Care Fertility network of clinics, who is also attending, said: " The now-infamous Panorama programme, and the published work commissioned by Panorama on which it was based, conflated necessary investigative tests that define treatment with novel procedures believed to enhance treatment success.
"This needs to be clarified beyond doubt. With regard to a genuine add-on to conventional treatment, practitioners and patients need to understand the evidence and/or rationale for offering any add-on to patients, and need to place all innovative medical science in the context of the history of medicine and IVF in particular.
"The relatively recently introduced concept of evidence-based medicine means many things to many people, and even key opinion leaders disagree."