Campaigners have requested increased oversight over 'no baby, no fee' funding programmes offered by IVF clinics.
The SAFE campaign, made up of fertility professionals, patients and finance brokers, was launched in response to the UK's largest fertility provider, the CARE Fertility Group's new CAREpay packages which allow patients to access a full refund if their treatment is unsuccessful after a set number of cycles or within a set timeframe.
SAFE Ambassador Natalie Silverman, who runs the Fertility Podcast, said: 'I and others in the industry are concerned about new changes being made by fertility clinics to expand their services and muddy the water when it comes to clinical and commercial decision-making.'
Such funding programmes are popular amongst fertility patients, but previously they were only offered by independent third-party finance brokers. The campaigners believe that by-passing independent brokers represents a conflict of interest and may result in a financial incentive to prioritise having a baby over the safety of patients.
SAFE pointed to data from the US where the fertility sector is less tightly regulated. Higher doses of medication are often used to stimulate higher numbers of eggs for collection resulting in higher rates of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), and higher numbers of embryos transferred result in more multiple births.
A spokesperson from the CARE Fertility explained that the move follows patient feedback regarding third-party funding programmes and reflects their desire to improve patients' experience.
The campaign is calling for the UK fertility sector regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), as well as the Competition and Markets Authority, to get involved.
'We monitor all aspects of treatment including multiple births and OHSS,' said an HFEA spokesperson. 'We have no evidence that payment plans affect the safety of treatment in the UK and we'll continue to ensure that all clinics provide safe treatment regardless of how it is funded'.
'Although these schemes may offer patients some certainty on what they may spend, they can all create additional pressure on patients to complete their treatment within a given time period, or forfeit money,' said Sarah Norcross, director the Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews). 'When payment option schemes are offered in-house, there is also a potential conflict of interest which, in the worst-case scenario, could result in fertility clinics pursuing the goal of a baby at the expense of the mother's health.'
'If fertility treatment were to be properly funded on the NHS the need for such schemes would be dramatically reduced,' Norcross added.