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Watchdog issues new consumer rights guidance to warn IVF clinics

14 June 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1099

Newly released guidance from the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), would allow couples to initiate legal proceedings against IVF clinics that have falsely guaranteed their success rates.

The guidance, drawn up with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), sets out consumer law rights for those considering/undergoing fertility treatments. The document sets out the legal obligations of clinics to the consumers, and specifically requires that: 'Clinics should not be advertising misleadingly low headline prices to attract patients.' Further, clinics cannot 'cherry-pick' their success rates by using a particularly good year rather than the most recent one or selectively sampling patients who had better results. If a clinic breaches any legal guidelines in promoting their services, then patients may seek compensation through legal proceedings.

'Buying fertility treatment is a big decision - it can be complicated, stressful and very expensive, with no guarantee of success. All patients deserve to have the information they need to make the right choices for them and be treated fairly,' said Louise Strong from the CMA. 'Our guidance should help clinics understand their legal obligations. In six months, we will be reviewing compliance in the sector and we will be ready to take enforcement action if businesses are breaking the law.'

In February 2020 the CMA had announced it would investigate possible 'mis-selling of services' and misleading claims about success rates of fertility treatments by clinics.

HFEA chair Julia Chain said the guidance 'is a major step forward for fertility patients as it provides added protection by ensuring that all clinics adhere to consumer and advertising law in addition to our regulatory requirements.'

The guidance also creates an obligation for clinics to present accurate data so that consumers can properly investigate and compare each clinics' costs and success rates. This protection extends beyond the treatment itself, to any guarantees made by clinics about 'add-ons', or the 'non-compulsory extras supplied by some clinics' which can cost up to £2500 per cycle.

Sarah Norcross, director of fertility charity Progress Educational Trust (PET), said: 'This is a wake-up call for fertility clinics that they are not exempt from consumer law. Sadly, too many patients struggling with infertility are unaware that they are consumers as well as patients and that they have rights.'

She continued, 'This is important when they are choosing a clinic and when they are offered treatment add-ons to IVF cycles as they can easily face financially ruinous bills for fertility treatment which should be available on the NHS... That's why PET welcomes this comprehensive guidance for both patients and clinics from the CMA; it will hopefully be a beacon of light for patients trying to navigate what is often a murky and tricky process at an emotionally difficult time, and a warning light for clinics of the practices to beware of.'

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