The UK's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has amassed cash reserves of around £3.4 million from charges to the clinics it licenses, prompting calls for the money to be given back to those seeking IVF treatment.
The HFEA charges a £75 fee for every IVF cycle undertaken at one of its licensed clinics. For those receiving NHS treatment, the fee is paid for by the clinic, however some private clinics pass the charge onto their patients.
The full cost of an IVF cycle is between £4,000 and £8,000, according to estimates published by the HFEA. Some NHS clinics are denying patients the full three cycles recommended by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) - or in some cases refusing treatment completely - as they say they cannot meet the cost.
'This comes at a time when NHS funding for infertility treatment such as IVF has been cut in many parts of the country', said Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society. 'The £3.4 million is a significant sum of money and by a conservative estimate would fund over 850 cycles of IVF treatment'.
The cash surplus - reported in the Health Service Journal - is equivalent to more than half of the HFEA's annual £6.2 million budget, which is funded partly by the Department of Health and partly by fees raised by the clinics it licenses. The HFEA cut the fee by 28 percent in October last year to prevent the surplus growing further, but many believe this isn't enough and that the money should be used to help patients.
'It would appear that the surplus has accumulated at least in part due to many patients who have been unable to access NHS treatment and been forced into the private sector', said Ms Clare Lewis-Jones of the charity Infertility Network UK. 'We strongly believe that the funds built up by the HFEA should be reinvested back into the area which they regulate and that infertility patients should in some way benefit from this excess'.
A spokesperson for the HFEA said that it had agreed with the Department of Health not to return the money to the clinics due to the 'complex principles and practicalities that would entail'. It said it had come up with a plan to spend the surplus 'wisely', but that this had been rejected by the Department of Health.
Ms Lewis-Jones responded: 'We would be interested to know what the HFEA had proposed in their plan to spend the surplus and why it was rejected by the Government'.