The Department of Health has announced that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will remain the independent regulator of assisted reproduction and embryo research in the UK. The decision follows an independent review of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the regulator for human tissue research.
In 2010 the Government's plans to transfer functions from the HFEA and the HTA to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Health Research Agency (HRA) were made public (see BioNews 577). However, after a public consultation (see BioNews 690) dissuaded the government from this course of action, it then considered merging the HFEA with the HTA to reduce expenditure and bureaucracy and to simplify regulation.
The independent review of the two bodies, carried out by Justin McCracken, the former chief executive of the now-dissolved Health Protection Agency, contained 18 recommendations, 13 of which were relevant to the HFEA. It found that there was little practical overlap in their work with that of the HTA.
The recommendations included the need to maintain public confidence in the activities that the HFEA and HTA regulate, and while both organisations enjoy that trust at the moment, merging them could risk losing it. The HFEA issued a short statement saying that 'many of [the proposed changes] are already underway'.
The report further suggested that to improve transparency, both organisations needed to improve their consultations with stakeholders when carrying out their regulatory activities. Other recommendations included the need for the HFEA to rebalance its activities somewhat, for example by ensuring that appropriate standards of practice are implemented consistently throughout the sector. The HFEA was reminded that it should implement its agreement with the CQC, to ensure that the two bodies do not duplicate regulatory work.
Although the organisations will retain their distinct identities, the report suggested that the support services could be combined and managed by a single director of finance and resources, which would save an estimated £2.8 million over ten years.
The Department of Health has accepted all the recommendations and will consider the support services suggestion. It has already held preliminary discussions with the HFEA and HTA about the recommendations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for public health, Anna Soubry, said in a written statement: 'We believe that implementation will bring about increased efficiency and effectiveness of the regulators whilst maintaining public and professional confidence in these sensitive and complex areas'.