The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has released draft guidance for the UK fertility sector, to ensure IVF clinics understand and comply with consumer law.
The CMA announced in February that it was looking into the fertility industry due to a lack of price transparency and misleading claims about success rates (see BioNews 1035). It has worked closely with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to develop these guidelines, with input from the fertility sector, including patients, clinicians, and professional bodies.
'The majority of patients self-fund their fertility treatment in the UK, and it is vital that they receive the right information at the right time and that clinic practices are fair under consumer law,' said Peter Thompson, chief executive of the HFEA. 'This is good news for patients and will help them at a time when they are making difficult decisions.'
The CMA guidance specifies that fertility clinics should provide material information to patients at all stages of their IVF journey so they can make informed decisions. They highlight four areas that require attention: transparency of treatment costs; how treatment 'add-ons' are advertised; the accuracy of success rates and how they are presented to patients, as well as the general terms and conditions of fertility treatment.
'It is a crying shame that fertility treatment is an area of medicine where patients are often treated like consumers and are therefore in need of protection,' Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews), told the Mail. 'For years PET has been calling for action on some of the issues the CMA is trying to tackle, such as advertising unrealistically low headline prices, presenting a treatment as medically necessary when it is not, claiming success rates are better than they are and not being clear about add-on treatments.'
The draft guidance is open for consultation by interested parties until January 2021 and virtual roundtables with stakeholders will occur in December of this year. The final guidance is set to be published in March 2021 alongside a short guide for IVF patients to help raise awareness of their consumer rights.
The CMA will conduct a compliance review once its final guidance has been issued. They have not reached a view as to whether the law has been broken but will consider 'enforcement action' if they find evidence that fertility clinics' practices or terms are unfair.