Fertility problems? Show UK clinics the door!

Fertility problems? Show UK clinics the door!


Illustration depicting a sign with an infertility concept.

Fertility problems affect around 1 in 6 UK couples of reproductive age. Many will be offered limited treatment at NHS fertility clinics. Or, more likely, no treatment at all: read all about the NHS postcode lottery here. Instead of getting help in their hour of need, desperate fertility patients face crippling costs at private UK clinics. But there’s no need to get nobbled. Just show these clinics the door.

Fertility in the UK is big business. And it’s getting bigger. A few months ago, a government review on the safety of IVF clinics found that profits were sometimes put before patient care. It cited the marketing of PGD during IVF, an expensive extra at fertility clinics. The author of the report, Dr. Justin McCracken, questioned whether the technique improves pregnancy chances. Many clinics suggest it does, or might. That’s shorthand for show me the money. PGD has benefitted many couples with specific fertility issues. But overselling a treatment to patients that may not need it, taking an extra £1,500 from their pockets? That surely crosses a line.

Here’s another fertility procedure you don’t always need: ICSI. Many UK clinics will tell you it’s a good idea. It costs more than the conventional fertilisation method, you’ve seen it on the telly and it’s proudly presented on the clinic’s price list as a niche little luxury. Worth paying more for, just to make sure? Not necessarily. It’ll show up on your bill as an eye-watering extra but may make no difference to the outcome. Expect to pay up to £2,000 for the privilege.

Don’t get us wrong: ICSI is a wonderful thing. As a specialist technique, it has certainly helped many couples achieve a pregnancy through fertility treatment. We think it played a part in our own successful IVF treatment abroad. But it comes into its own if the male partner has sperm issues, such as low motility or count, or if previous IVF cycles encountered fertilisation problems. We had ICSI because it was included in our treatment cost. Many clinics in mainland Europe do this. The point is, it wasn’t mis-sold or marked up.

Lord Winston has irresponsible fertility marketing in his sights. Earlier this year, he criticised yet another highly publicised claim of an IVF breakthrough, this one involving embryo screening using photography. He questioned whether these kinds of claims were right, when clinical trials had yet to show their worth.

Winston often lambasts fertility clinic fees, which is why we like him. To him, diagnosis is what’s important. Don’t just rush to the nearest clinic and sign on the dotted line. Fertility patients, he warns, can be exploited by the colossal fees of some British IVF clinics.

The unfettered fertility marketplace in the UK shows there’s a real problem in private IVF treatment. The McCracken review (the one that questioned the commercialism of PGD) was commissioned to help cut the cost of fertility regulation in the UK. Not patient charges, just regulation. It asked the HFEA to monitor the performance of UK fertility clinics more closely.

It should, too. One of our patients had a miscarriage following IVF in a UK clinic. She was offered no support whatsoever from the treating clinic. She then went to a private London clinic, which said it would treat her immediately with donor eggs, for £10,000. No mention of the fact that a miscarriage patient shouldn’t actually have fertility treatment for at least three months, to allow her body and mind to recover. That clinic also said she would have no leftover embryos to freeze from her ‘donor’. We call that an egg-share situation in all but name. That’s a £10,000 charge for medical lies.

It’s a shame McCracken didn’t also ask the fertility clinics to cap the exorbitant fees they still charge. Until that happens, which may be never, patients must show clinics in the UK that they’d rather go abroad than be exploited.

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