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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.

9 August 2021 - by Sarah Lensen 
IVF add-ons are procedures, techniques or medicines which can be used in addition to standard IVF protocols. They are usually offered by IVF clinics, and used by patients, with the hope that they will improve the chance of IVF success...
9 November 2020 - by Martha Roberts 
The UK Competition and Markets Authority has released draft guidance for the UK fertility sector, to ensure IVF clinics understand and comply with consumer law...
16 December 2019 - by Dr Marieke Bigg 
This was the second session of the Progress Educational Trust’s annual conference in London ‘Reality Check: A realistic look at assisted reproduction’...
16 December 2019 - by Sophia McCully 
The subject of this year's Progress Educational Trust annual conference was 'a realistic look at assisted reproduction'...
8 July 2019 - by Sally Cheshire CBE 
Rarely a day goes by without the UK media mentioning assisted reproduction and the fertility sector. Whether it's the latest research innovation, the growth in DNA testing and matching websites, the funding and commissioning of fertility services or reports of patients confused as to whether they should pay for expensive and unproven add-on treatments...
26 June 2019 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The increasingly popular technique ICSI has no advantages over IVF in treating cases not related to male infertility, according to a new study...
25 June 2019 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
While IVF use in Europe has risen, the success rates after IVF or ICSI appear to have peaked...
16 July 2018 - by Rachel Siden 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will require fertility clinics to give patients full information about any IVF 'add-on' services being offered to them...
3 July 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
A controversial technique to super-charge patients' eggs with their own mitochondria before undergoing assisted reproduction does not improve success rates, suggests a new study...
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