The UK Government has launched a consultation on the future of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) amid proposals to transfer the regulators' functions elsewhere.
The UK-wide consultation asks for views on whether the HFEA and HTA should be abolished and the regulator's responsibilities reallocated to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), with the HFEA's research functions transferred to the newly formed Health Research Authority – or if some functions should be transferred to organisations other than the CQC. It also asks for views on whether the HFEA and HTA should continue to retain their functions, with further cost-savings made.
Health minister Earl Frederick Howe said the consultation is part of the Government's overall programme to streamline arm's-length bodies, which is hoped will deliver savings of over £180 million by 2015.
'Services must be delivered in the most efficient way possible. By making sure that the right functions are being carried out at the appropriate level, we will free up savings to support front-line NHS services', he said.
The Public Bodies Act empowers the UK Government to dismantle the HFEA and the HTA and to transfer the regulators' functions to other bodies. A recent report, however, questioned the readiness of the CQC to take on the HFEA's functions, highlighting shortcomings in its performance (reported in BioNews 651) and there has been concern expressed over the proposals. During the debate of the Public Bodies Bill (as it then was) in the House of Commons, MPs Frank Dobson, Jon Trickett and Valerie Vaz emphasised the role of the HFEA and HTA in upholding public confidence and undertaking important work.
However, amid the controversy surrounding funding cuts in fertility treatment in various parts of the UK, the move to consider areas where cost savings can be made has also been welcomed.
Commenting on the consultation, Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society (BFS) said: 'The British Fertility Society is absolutely committed to upholding the principles enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. However, in today's difficult economic climate, it is clear that we must take a long hard look at how the fertility sector in the UK is regulated and see whether there are alternative models that can do this more efficiently'.
Dr Pacey said the BFS will consult with its membership before responding to the consultation. 'Improvement in the current process of regulation would be supported by the Society, although change for change's sake without clear evidence of benefit would not', he added.
The consultation is open for responses until 28 September. Earl Howe said 'any final decisions will be taken after we have fully considered the consultation responses, evidence and other relevant information'.