12 June 2006
ByAppeared in BioNews 362
On the 10th June 2006, National Infertility Day, Dame Suzi Leather - Chair of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - spoke about the need for information on the cost of infertility treatment, improvement in customer care and called for access to fertility treatment to be improved.
Earlier this year the 100,000th IVF baby was born. Despite this achievement, Dame Suzi wants to see a vast improvement in the way the UK's fertility treatment sector is run. She raised a number of issues such as the problem that one in three patients are paying more for their treatment than originally expected. In her speech, she commented that she wanted to see 'patients being fully informed about infertility, not kept in the dark or fed misleading claims. Each and every patient should be in a position to make the best possible personal choice for them including information about cost'. Findings by the HFEA show that patients are likely to set aside between £4000 and £8000 for each IVF attempt at a private clinic.
Dame Suzi also reveals than almost a fifth of patients undergoing fertility treatment gave their clinic a customer service score of less than 4 out of 10, in her opinion this is not satisfactory and she stated that she wants to see 'good customer care with clinics treating patients fairly and not just like "another number" on an impersonal production line'.
Another key issue identified by Dame Suzi in her speech was that of access to treatment, and the problems clinics are having in the supply of egg and sperm donors. She stated that although the HFEA has no responsibility with regards to the supply of donor sperm and eggs, it is monitored by them. She has openly commented that clinics are responsible for recruiting donors and asked the question: 'What are the clinics doing to tackle the problems of supply?'. Dame Suzi does not attribute the decline in sperm donations to the new law on donor anonymity, but instead revealed that there is evidence of clinics hoarding supplies of sperm and not releasing it to other clinics who need it.
The biggest risk to those undergoing IVF is multiple births, and Dame Suzi comments that, 'We are currently looking at how to further tackle the problem of multiple births'. With this in mind she also explains a possible solution: 'if the safest course of action for some patients is two embryo transfer - but one at a time - then NHS funding for a cycle of treatment should cover a fresh as well as a frozen embryo transfer'.
Dame Suzi therefore urges those providing treatment to improve standards, saying that the needs and expectations of patients should be at the heart of infertility services. In her speech, Dame Suzi outlined what she thinks would effectively improve the operation of clinics in the UK: 'I want to see treatment for patients delivered in a safe way, carried out to high standards. I want to see proper access to treatment for patients. I would like to see the Government follow through on its stated desire to fully implement the NICE guidelines'.