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Lord Winston criticises IVF clinics of 'excessive' costs and 'misinformation'

31 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 609

Some IVF clinics in London are overcharging patients for fertility services, Professor Lord Robert Winston has said.

'One of the key issues with which the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has not dealt is the high cost of IVF treatment. In my view, it is a scandal', said Lord Winston at a House of Lords debate on a proposed amendment to the Public Bodies Bill that would safeguard the existence of the HFEA.

'One clinic in London charges £915 for embryo freezing. That is for a mechanised treatment that is extremely easy to do in the laboratory. If that were not enough, the storage fees are £325 a year. Given that liquid nitrogen, which is what the embryos are stored in, costs a few pence a litre, that seems somewhat excessive'.

'The HFEA has shown itself to be completely unable to deal with this issue at all', he added.

The HFEA advises clinics to implant single embryos during IVF to avoid the risks associated with multiple births. Consequently, couples seeking fertility treatment may opt to freeze surplus embryos for later use.

Lord Winston also brought attention to overcharging for fertility drugs used during IVF. 'There are clinics that treat patients for around £3,400 a cycle. It is only when you look at their websites that you see that they are charging up to £1,100 to £3,200 for drugs that should be obtained on contracts at around £500 to £700 per cycle', he said.

With some health authorities using private clinic prices as guidelines, in part, for their own fees for IVF, many PCTs can't offer the number of treatment cycles recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), said Lord Winston. IVF is therefore dominated by the private sector, making it 'a highly privileged treatment'.

Overcharging was not the only criticism levied at private fertility clinics by Lord Winston. He also highlighted the use of misleading success rate statistics. '... Another clinic argues that it has a 30 percent success rate in women over 40 or 42. That is a biological impossibility given that the implantation rate alone of a patient under 40 is something around 18 percent per embryo - at best 25 percent', he said.

'What the site does not say is that this is for pregnancy, not delivery of a live baby. It does not take into account the vast number of miscarriages that presumably these patients are going through. This kind of misinformation occurs again and again'.

A spokesperson for the HFEA dismissed accusations of failing to regulate the cost of IVF but, regarding misinformation, went on to say: 'We are about to launch an initiative to work with centres to take a more responsible approach to patient information'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
House of Lords Public Bodies Bill debate (Lord Winston)
Lords Hansard |  9 May 2011
Private IVF clinics charge too much and lie about success rate, says Lord Winston
Daily Mail |  23 May 2011
The baby business: Watchdog to crack down on the 'scandal' of IVF clinics
Independent |  22 May 2011
Winston calls for action against IVF clinics in charging 'scandal'
London Evening Standard |  17 May 2011
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