A new report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has shown that fertility treatment is becoming safer, with the standard of care improving across UK clinics.
The State of the sector report, the HFEA's annual compliance publication, shows that around 80 percent of clinics were issued with a full licence, confirming that most clinics are meeting expected standards. However, the report also highlights key areas for improvement to prevent clinical incidents.
Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, said: 'I'm pleased that this report indicates continued good performance across the UK fertility sector. Significant improvements in some of the key areas we've highlighted previously with clinics are especially reassuring, proving that working together with clinics and the professional bodies is having a positive impact for patients.'
According to the report, the number of non-compliances per inspection has decreased every year since 2015/16, with 351 non-compliances in 2018/19 compared to almost 400 the previous year. Furthermore, over half of clinics had fewer areas of concern compared with their last inspection, and the number of patient complaints decreased. Multiple births, the single biggest health risk from IVF, also reached an all-time low of ten percent.
However, the report warns that the number of errors has risen by six percent in the last year, and 18 percent compared to 2015/16. In one of the most serious incidents, the donor sperm process was not verified by an embryologist at the point of preparing laboratory records, resulting in the wrong sperm being used. Despite the mix-up, the affected couple, who were trying for their second child at Simply Fertility in Essex, decided to continue with the pregnancy. The HFEA said the rise in incidents may be down to fertility clinics improving reporting of their errors.
Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews), told The Telegraph: 'It is of concern to see that there has been a rise in safety incidents since 2015/16, however, the sustained work that the HFEA and others have been doing to create a more open and transparent sector – one in which fertility clinics are encouraged to say when things have gone wrong – means incidents are more frequently reported than in the past. Having a regulator that is prepared to listen and to help clinics learn from any incident is key to the continued safety of the fertility industry.'
Cheshire acknowledged that there is room for improvement: 'To make the sector even better and safer for patients there is more work to do... We will continue to ensure that the whole sector learns from any clinic incident, however minor, to understand what went wrong and, crucially, that steps are taken to ensure it does not happen again.'