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Consultation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority

2 July 2012
By Earl Howe
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Quality, Department of Health
Appeared in BioNews 663
In 2010 British doctor Professor Robert Edwards was awarded a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in IVF. Together with his colleague Dr Patrick Steptoe he created the technique that means today around five million IVF babies have been born to parents who otherwise may have been left childless. Behind this success story is the less prominent but nevertheless essential narrative of how we regulate the sector.

Standards should never come into question, but it's clear to this Government that NHS administrative costs can be streamlined. Estimates suggest that savings of over £180 million could be delivered by 2015 by reducing the number of NHS bodies, including arm's-length bodies.

And that is why I set out proposals to change responsibility for regulating fertility treatment and human tissue last week. The UK-wide consultation will consider whether the responsibilities of the regulators - the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) - should move to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Health Research Authority (HRA).

The HFEA and HTA were established as specialist regulators following the first IVF births and concerns around tissue-retention. In the absence of a broader healthcare regulatory system, they have been well-placed to take on those roles. They have been, and continue to be, well-respected and effective regulators.

But times change. The emergence of the HRA and the developing role of the CQC mean that we have to question if the current range and number of regulators is sustainable.

Over 90 percent of the centres licensed by the HFEA in England are also regulated by, or are in premises regulated by, the CQC. We recognise the value of specialism, but we also need to consider the benefits and economies of scale. At the moment, each of the regulatory bodies has their own independent organisational infrastructures that require support. We must consider whether this is the best use of taxpayers' money.

The consultation sets out options on where HFEA and HTA functions might be transferred to. It also includes the option to retain current structures but deliver further efficiencies.

We have been clear, and will continue to reiterate, that this is about the consideration and rationalisation of who undertakes regulation and not about undermining safeguards and standards, both of which will remain firmly in place. Matters concerning human embryos and human tissue are too important for any other stance to be taken.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and the Human Tissue Act quite rightly provide the superstructure of prohibitions, definitions, requirements and restrictions put in place by Parliament. These apply, and will continue to do so, regardless of who the regulator is.

The consultation is a significant step in the process towards streamlining health regulation, and we hope that as many people as possible will take part in this important opportunity to shape that process.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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