The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is to merge with the proposed Human Tissue Authority (HTA) to become the Regulatory Authority for Fertility and Tissue (RAFT). The amalgamation of these two bodies is part of the Department of Health's (DoH) review of Arm's Length Bodies (ALB), which the Health Minister John Reid hopes will save taxpayers £500 million.
The proposal to shake up DoH quangos was outlined in May and the details were published in 'Reconfiguring the Department of Health's Arm's Length Bodies' on 22 July. An ALB is defined as a stand-alone body that reports to the DoH. Of the current 38 (42 including those in the pipeline) some will be abolished and others merged, leaving a total of 20 by 2008. This should release the resources needed for four new hospitals or 20,000 new nurses. The reform is in line with the Treasury's campaign for efficiency and follows Sir Peter Gershon's Efficiency Review. It also takes into account the Lyons Review, which recommends that public sector jobs are relocated away from London and the South East.
Set up in 1991 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, the HFEA regulates assisted reproductive technologies and embryo research. The HTA on the other hand is yet to be formed: the Human Tissue Bill which will create it is still before Parliament. Both the HFEA and the HTA's remits fall under the European Union's Tissues and Cells directive, so RAFT will become its single competent authority, as well as being a competent authority on the EU Blood directive and EU Organs directive.
The reform has been welcomed by many in the sector. Suzi Leather, who chairs the HFEA, said 'I welcome the creation of the Regulatory Authority for Fertility and Tissue. The HFEA will have a lot to contribute with its experience and expertise. We are already working on the EU Tissue Directive'. Niall Dickinson of the King's Fund, a health charity, said 'We needed to rationalise the number of Arm's Length Bodies'. He added: 'Too often the government's solution to every problem has been to establish an agency, with the result that the NHS has been drowning in an alphabet soup of acronyms', said. Half of the current ALBs have been created since Labour came to power in 1997.