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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 16:12 GMT
Fertility league tables 'misleading'

Fertility clinics have different success rates
Official rankings of fertility clinics according to pregnancy rates are "very flawed", according to an expert.

The figures, published yearly by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), appear to reveal wide variations in success rates between different clinics offering the same procedures.

However, Lord Winston, who carries out pioneering research at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, said they encouraged doctors to refuse treatment to those with a lesser chance of success.

In addition to being already two years out of date by the time they are published, he said, they were a disincentive for units to carry out research, and so statistically flawed as to be virtually useless.

Addressing the Millennium Festival of Medicine conference in London, he said: "It is one of the biggest criticisms of the HFEA that these tables are published in the way they are.

"They are useless because fundamentally they are not comparing like with like.

Lord Winston: "tables are flawed"
"They encourage clinics to doctor their figures to look more successful and it means that units will not want to treat older women with less chance of success because they will depress the figures."

A spokesman for the HFEA said that the figures were not designed to form league tables, simply to provide consumers with information they wanted.

The experiences of older women seeking IVF in the UK were also unacceptable, he said.

A group of patients who had benefited the economy by delaying motherhood, he said, were finding it increasingly difficult to get funding for their IVF on the NHS.

"Contributing to society"

"We are penalising those very women who have developed their skills and contributed to society by paying taxes and developing their careers."

However, Lord Winston said he saw fertility treatment success rates being boosted in future by research into ovarian tissue and the eggs it contains.

In normal IVF, drugs are used to accelerate the maturation of eggs - and these can have undesireable or even dangerous side-effects.

Researchers are now using sophisticated techniques to mature eggs from tiny samples of ovarian tissue removed in a simple procedure.

Lord Winston told the conference that he expected these techniques to be the next big breakthroughs in fertility treatment, not only making the process safer, but also much cheaper, improving access for less well-off families.

But he criticised researchers who he said were not making sure techniques were safe in animals before testing them on humans.

He said: "I find it rather alarming that people are trying to go to the human before going to animal models."

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See also:

31 Mar 99 | Health
IVF: the drawbacks
21 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Multiple births and fertility treatment
25 Jan 00 | Health
Frozen egg ban lifted
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