IVF clinics are charging ‘eye-watering’ prices to exploit women, ex-fertility watchdog chief warns

Those wishing to start a family are being charged ‘eye-watering’ prices by IVF clinics as services experience a rush following a year of closures and delays in lockdown.    

Britain’s fertility watchdog has warned that inflated prices are taking advantage of desperate women who feel they have ‘lost a year of their lives’ in their quest to become parents. 

Sally Cheshire, ex-chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) told The Daily Telegraph that the regulator needed to be given the power to set price limits for fertility treatments in order to protect vulnerable customers.

Mrs Cheshire, who recently stepped down from her role as chairman at HFEA after 15 years, told the paper that she would have set a limit of £5,000 per cycle of IVF – some clinics are currently charging up to £20,000 per cycle. 

Sally Cheshire, ex-chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said price limits for treatments needed to be set by the regulator

Sally Cheshire, ex-chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said price limits for treatments needed to be set by the regulator

Sally Cheshire, ex-chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said price limits for treatments needed to be set by the regulator

The ex-chairman said she had urged ministers to update 30-year-old legislation that had been established before a commercial fertility market existed in the UK.

She called for the government to give HFEA the powers to set limits that would stop private fertility clinics from overcharging and making false claims over ‘add-on’ treatments that had not been proven to work.

Mrs Cheshire told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We need to have some curbs on that commercial competitive environment, given two thirds of fertility patients fund their own treatment.’  

The number of women opting to freeze their eggs or embryos in the UK rose 523 per cent rise between 2013 and 2018, the latest data from HFEA reveals.

In 2018, 9,000 women underwent fertility treatment to store their eggs or embryos until a later date. This was up from 1,500 so-called ‘storage cycles’ in 2013.

Within this, the number of women opting to freeze their unfertilised eggs rose from 569 to 2,000 during the five-year period – a 240 per cent rise. 

Mrs Cheshire called for the government to give HFEA the powers to set limits that would stop private fertility clinics from overcharging. Stock image

Mrs Cheshire called for the government to give HFEA the powers to set limits that would stop private fertility clinics from overcharging. Stock image

Mrs Cheshire called for the government to give HFEA the powers to set limits that would stop private fertility clinics from overcharging. Stock image

Inquiries into fertility treatments jumped by 50 per cent at some fertility clinics in the country last summer compared with the same period last year as an increasing number looked at the fertility treatment as an ‘insurance policy’.

The findings come after campaigners called on the arbitrary ten-year limit for storing women’s eggs to be extended in order to those wanting to have children more time.  

Freezing allows women who are not ready to have children – either for career or financial reasons, or because they have not found the right partner – to store their eggs, so they can be used in IVF when they are ready for a family. 

The whole process for egg freezing and thawing costs an average of £7,000-£8,000, according to HFEA.

Women under 40 could be eligible for three cycles of IVF on the NHS – however if they are between 40 to 42 this falls to one cycle, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends. 

Whilst clinics were only forced to close for the first month of lockdown in England,  the pandemic has caused delays to NHS services.

This has meant that for some women they have passed the ‘cut-off’ point for using NHS funded services – meaning they will need to turn to private clinics for treatment if they wish to try for children.

Who has access to IVF treatment on the NHS?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) fertility guidelines makes recommendations about who should have access to IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales.

But individual NHS clinical commissioning groups make the final decision in their local area, and may have stricter criteria than NICE.

According to NICE, women aged under 40 should be offered 3 cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS if:

  • They’ve been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for 2 years
  • They’ve not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination

If they turn 40 during treatment, the current cycle will be completed, but further cycles shouldn’t be offered.

If tests show IVF is the only treatment likely to help them get pregnant, they should be referred straight away.

The NICE guidelines also say women aged 40 to 42 should be offered 1 cycle of IVF on the NHS if all of the following criteria are met:

  • They’ve been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for 2 years, or haven’t been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination
  • They’ve never had IVF treatment before
  • They show no evidence of low ovarian reserve (where eggs in your ovaries are low in number or quality)
  • They’ve been informed of the additional implications of IVF and pregnancy at this age

 Source: NHS

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