Fertility clinics 'exploit women'
An IVF pioneer has accused fertility clinics of exploitation, claiming women are being charged three times the actual cost of their treatment.
In an interview with the Independent, Lord Robert Winston said some of the charges - by both private practitioners and the NHS - were a "scandal".
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends that eligible women aged from 23 to 39 be offered three cycles of treatment on the NHS, although there are reportedly wide variations in how closely primary care trusts follow the guidance.
Figures show more than 45,000 women had fertility treatment in 2010, with 60% paying for themselves and 40% treated on the NHS. For those who pay for it, the average basic cost of treatment is £2,500 in clinics run by the NHS and £3,500 in private clinics, plus the price of drugs and tests which can double the bill, the newspaper reported.
Lord Winston, who is a Labour peer and former head of the NHS IVF clinic at Hammersmith Hospital, told the newspaper: "My view is that both NHS and private clinics are charging much more than the cost of delivering the treatment."
Calculating the costs for a large unit treating 2,000 patients a year, he concluded that the treatment could be delivered for £700 a cycle, which would reach £1,200 to £1,300 a cycle when overheads are included.
He branded the current fees "pure exploitation", adding: "The NHS is basing its fees not on what it costs but on what it thinks the market will bear."
The market was being driven by both "avarice on the part of the clinics and desperation on the part of the women", he added. In his interview, he also attacked the use of experimental techniques by private clinics, accusing them of profiting from techniques that had not been trialled.
Addressing the criticism, Simon Fishel, managing director of private IVF provider Care Fertility, said Lord Winston's own private practice at the Royal Masonic Hospital in the 1990s "charged among the highest prices".
In response, Lord Winston told the Independent all money raised from his private work had gone to charity and to treating NHS patients.