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New consumer law guidelines for IVF sector

17 February 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1035

The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will create consumer protection guidelines for the UK fertility sector, to ensure that IVF clinics practice in accordance with consumer law. 

The CMA will work in conjunction with the fertility sector regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to review the current practice of IVF clinics within the UK and to devise a set of working guidelines that promote the fair treatment of fertility patients. This guidance will also ensure that clinics know what their legal obligations are in terms of consumer protection. 

'The Competition and Markets Authority has concerns about possible cases of mis-selling of services such as IVF 'add-on' treatments, and possible misrepresentation of clinics' success rates… Going through or exploring potential fertility treatments can be a stressful and emotional experience, with people having to make decisions in challenging circumstances. As such, it is important that clinics provide all the necessary information on treatments to allow patients to make informed choices,' they announced.

The planned guidelines will focus on four areas: transparency of treatment costs; how treatment 'add-ons' are advertised and sold to patients; the accuracy of success rates and the format in which they are presented to patients, as well as the general terms and conditions of fertility treatment.

The CMA want clinics to present their patients with 'clear and upfront prices for their treatments' and will seek to ensure that patients are 'given all the information they need before deciding whether an add-on is right for them'. 

The announcement follows concerns expressed by the HFEA (see BioNews 1015) and other organisations that some patients are potentially being mis-sold unnecessary 'add-ons' that can increase treatment costs by thousands of pounds. 

The ASA, the UK's independent regulator of advertising, will focus on how fertility clinics advertise their services, and in particular, how they present their success rates. 

At present, it is unclear whether any of the UK fertility clinics are in breach of the current consumer protection law. However, the CMA has warned that 'enforcement action' could be implemented if the review committee identifies any deliberate misleading practice.

A draft version of the fertility sector guidance is expected to be published in July 2020 and will undergo a public consultation. The CMA intends to draw upon first-hand experiences to shape their consumer law guidelines and want to hear from patients who believe their fertility treatment was misrepresented or mis-sold. The finalised guidelines are expected to be published by the end of 2020. 

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews) told the Mail: 'This can only be good news for fertility patients, who typically have to make multiple decisions about very costly options while deeply distressed and vulnerable.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
CMA to issue consumer law guidelines for the IVF sector
GOV.UK |  7 February 2020
Competition watchdog probes rip-off IVF clinics 'that are exaggerating success rates and mis-selling treatments to desperate couples'
Daily Mail |  7 February 2020
Launch of new project by the competition and markets authority into the IVF sector
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority |  7 February 2020
New guidelines for the IVF sector
ASA |  7 February 2020
What IVF providers can expect from the CMA's review
Pinset Masons |  13 February 2020
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