The maximum rate for multiple births following assisted conception in fertility centres has been set by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) at 15 percent.
The target has been implemented by the HFEA for live births between 6 April 2011 and 5 April 2012. It includes births resulting from standard IVF, ICSI and gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) treatments using fresh and frozen embryos or eggs, from patients' own eggs and donor eggs. The HFEA says although the target rate is 'challenging' it had been recommended by professional bodies and patient groups as a realistic target for clinics.
Writing to inform UK fertility clinics of the changes, Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA, said: 'Where analysis of clinical pregnancy rates indicates that the resulting live birth rate is likely to be in excess of the target your inspector will explore your performance with you'.
The incident of multiple births resulting from IVF is higher than for natural conceptions. Multiple births have been associated with increased health risks to the child including stillbirths, disabilities, and neonatal death. In addition, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and late miscarriage are among the risks posed to the mother.
In 2007 the HFEA decided to adopt an elective single embryo transfer (SET) policy, whereby a single embryo is transferred in patients who have the highest chance of conceiving and thus are at highest risk of a multiple pregnancy, in an effort to reduce the UK multiple birth rate to 10 percent. Clinics are permitted to develop individual SET strategies but the HFEA sets a maximum multiple birth rate each year. In the first year of the policy - 2009 - this was 24 percent, which was reduced to 20 percent in the second year. The new target is the third year multiple birth target rate.