Fertility clinics 'exploiting' older women
Author: Mark Gould
Older women are being exploited by IVF (in vitro fertilisation) clinics "trading on hope", Sally Cheshire, the chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has warned.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph Mrs Cheshire said some private clinics were using "selective success rates" to target older women. She added that some parts of the sector were using "blatant" sales tactics to persuade "vulnerable" women to undergo treatment.
The 50-year-old said she had even been offered IVF treatments herself, by staff who were unaware of her role with the regulator, at a visit to a fertility show in Manchester.
"We now see things like 'guaranteed baby or your money back','' she said.
Mrs Cheshire wants the HFEA, which regulates all fertility services in the UK, to be given powers to regulate prices, saying that some private centres were charging up to £20,000 for cycles - four times as much as she said treatments should cost.
She said prices were often inflated by the growing use of "add-on treatments", such as embryo glue and endometrial scratches, offered by clinics to boost chances of success.
In spite of the fact that IVF is less likely to be successful as a woman gets older, since 2004 the number of women in their 40s undergoing fertility treatment has doubled to 10,835 in 2017.
The latest HFEA figures show that, among those using their own eggs, out of 2,265 embryo transfers in 2017, just 75 women aged 43 to 44 ended up with a baby. For those over 44, the success rate was even lower - amounting to 1% between 2004 and 2017.
Mrs Cheshire went on to tell the BBC that some women were not being told their "realistic chance of success" when sold the treatment.
She said all UK clinics needed to be "transparent" about the costs involved, as well as the likely outcome.
Mrs Cheshire added that the clinics giving "selective statistics" tended to be "foreign".
"If you have treatment in the UK, all those clinics are regulated by us - by and large it's a good sector," she said.
"What we're concerned about are more of the foreign clinics who are coming to the UK who are investing here... who absolutely are not being honest."
NHS guidelines recommend that women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF, while those between 40 and 42 should be offered one full cycle. However, eligibility criteria varies in different areas of the country.
IVF is not usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because of low success rates.
Earlier this year the HFEA warned that some clinics were offering IVF without conclusive evidence that they increase the chance of pregnancy.
Its website now has a "traffic light" rating for such treatments. None have been given the green light, which indicates there is more than one quality trial showing the procedure is effective and safe.