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IVF clinics accused of 'embezzling' cash from desperate patients

9 December 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1027

IVF clinics are seemingly 'embezzling' money from vulnerable patients by offering them unnecessary expensive add-ons to their treatment, according to a fertility expert.

Chris Barratt, professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Dundee, made the comments during a discussion at the annual conference of the Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews) called 'Reality Check: A Realistic Look at Assisted Reproduction'. He led a session entitled 'What's the Truth about ICSI – Is It Being Overused?'

ICSI is designed to aid couples seeking fertility treatment who have issues conceiving due to poor sperm quality, but it can cost up to an extra £1400 on top of the cost of IVF. The procedure involves injecting a single sperm directly into each egg.

Professor Barratt explained how he felt some clinics are exploiting those seeking fertility treatment by recommending the high-profit ICSI when there is no indication of a male factor. 

He estimated that clinics could make up to an extra £700,000 a year by recommending ICSI to all patients, rather than only those who would truly benefit from the procedure. The problem is starting to be addressed, with overall ICSI rates decreasing. However, 50 percent of all IVF cycles still use ICSI while only 30-35 percent of cases are related to male factor infertility. 

Professor Barratt said at the conference: 'The question is why do you have a large number of people having ICSI who don't have male factor infertility? … is it just for money, if it's not recommended and it doesn't work, but you are being charged £1300 extra?'

In Europe, he said, this means 'you'd be seeing €50 million (£42 million) per year effectively embezzled or whatever technical, financial term you want to call it'.

Concerningly, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne and Melbourne IVF found that conducting the ICSI procedure on couples with normal sperm parameters decreases their chance of success.

They reported that the pregnancy rate in healthy sperm couples using ICSI was 16.08 percent, which is lower than the 23.06 percent in those using routine IVF. The live birth rate also decreased from 17.22 percent to 13.2 percent with ICSI instead of IVF.

According to The Telegraph, the HFEA has reminded patients: 'For most people who have no evidence of male-factor infertility, the chances of getting pregnant are the same whether they have ICSI or not and it will cost more if you're paying for your own treatment.'

This statement was also supported by NICE, which confirms that ICSI should only be used for male factor infertility.

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