Fertility regulator calls for more transparency around add-ons

Fertility clinics have been told they must be more transparent with patients when they discuss the value of ‘add-ons’ and the likelihood they increase the chances of pregnancy.

Fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has warned that additional procedures are being routinely offered to patients, at additional cost to ‘standard’ services, despite inconclusive evidence that they boost fertility.

Its warning comes as a patient survey revealed that in the past two years, almost three quarters of IVF patients had undergone ‘at least’ one type of add-on procedure.

Clinical techniques, such as an endometrial scratch, embryo glue, and embryoscope, are the most common add-ons offered to patients, according to the HFEA’s research.  

At the LaingBuisson Fertility Forum in November last year, delegates heard how the HFEA had reviewed evidence for the effectiveness of nine of the most common add-on services in a traffic light system for patients on its website.

All three of the most common procedures were given an ‘amber’ status by the HFEA, meaning the evidence that the procedures are effective is not strong enough.

‘Feedback the HFEA is getting is that nothing will actually help to improve an IVF cycle other than what a clinic already does,’ Sandra Bateman, chief executive of the National Fertility Society, said at the conference.

The HFEA has published a consensus statement on its website with signatures from ten leading health organisations committing to ‘creating a culture change’ in the UK fertility sector alongside the regulator.

Under new guidance, clinics have been told they should only offer add-on services if more than one ‘high quality’ study can prove they are ‘effective and safe’.

Information or data provided to patients by clinics laying out the supporting evidence for an add-on will need to be in alignment with the HFEA’s code of practice guidance, according to the consensus statement.  

HFEA chair Sally Cheshire said: ‘ Fertility treatment add-ons are being offered to more patients by clinics and we know many patients are asking for these add-ons and paying for them if they have private treatment.

‘It’s crucial that clinics are transparent about the add-on treatments they offer, including the potential costs.

 ‘We are now expecting clinics to provide information about treatment add-ons to patients, including what evidence there is of effectiveness.’