Sally Cheshire, chair of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has warned that private IVF clinics are misleading older patients about success rates and overcharging for their services.
Between 2004 and 2017, the success rate for births after IVF for women aged 44 or older was just one percent. However, clinics are presenting 'very selective' information on success rates to patients while reportedly charging up to £20,000 per cycle, Cheshire told the Telegraph.
'Some of the private sector clinics use very selective success rates in their sales tactics which we are also trying to stop. Because they need to be honest about their results by age group, by category of patient – all of which is available on [the HFEA] website,' said Cheshire.
The number of women in their 40s seeking to have a child through IVF has doubled since 2004, reaching 10,835 women in 2017. However, only 75 women a year aged 42-43 will have a baby through IVF, using her own eggs. Over the age of 44, the figure is less than two. The success rate is boosted if the woman uses eggs frozen from when she was younger.
'I would like our clinics to be honest about the success rates,' said Cheshire.
Cheshire, who is 50, recalled being personally approached by IVF providers at the Fertility Show in 2018. 'I said, "Do you realise I am the chair of the HFEA? You really shouldn't be offering this."'
She also called for the HFEA to be given powers to intervene where IVF clinics are overcharging patients. Add-on treatments – many of which are not proven to boost pregnancy rates and are potentially dangerous - are behind the inflation of IVF costs, Cheshire said. Three-quarters of patients take up an add-on option.
'We have no legal powers to regulate prices. But a cycle shouldn't cost more than £5000, £3000 to £4000 [for the basic cycle] plus an extra £1000 maybe for an extra frozen embryo transfer,' said Cheshire.
'We need to be doing the right thing by our patients – making sure that the price is not exploitative; that the information is accurate and that patients are not being offered add-on treatments that are unproven without the facts.'