The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has signed a consensus statement calling for private IVF clinics to stop charging patients costly optional add-on treatments that are not proven to work.
A total of 11 organisations signed the letter, made public on the HFEA website. They included the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Fertility Society.
'Patients deserve consistent, evidence based treatment,' said Peter Thompson, chief executive of the HFEA. 'We are concerned that too many patients are being offered unproven treatment add-ons. While we do not want to put up unreasonable barriers to clinical innovation, we believe such add-ons should be available only where there is proof they work.'
The increased competition among private IVF clinics is to blame for the costly add-on treatments, according to the letter. These add-ons include techniques such as time-lapse imaging to try to detect embryo abnormalities and assisted hatching, which involves creating a hole in the embryo's outer layer to aid the hatching process that takes place before implanting in the womb.
The add-ons are sold as ways to increase chances of having a successful pregnancy, but the effectiveness of these expensive treatments is unproven. Some of the techniques carry significant health risks to the patient. The consensus statement criticises clinics for easily offering add-on treatments due, in part, to demand from patients.
'Practitioners have a duty of care to patients, which should separate pressure from patients and commercial interests from their best practice advice,' it states. The signatories call for a 'culture change' in order to have a truthful conversation with patients about treatment add-ons. The high costs of charging patients for experimental procedures was raised in July (see BioNews 958).
Thompson said: 'That is why we’ve been working with professional groups to agree a statement about how treatment add-ons should be offered ethically in clinical practice in the UK.' The full consensus statement is due to be published shortly, he added.