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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
EU faces fertility tourism threat
By Caroline Ryan
BBC News Online health staff in Berlin

IVF costs vary significantly
EU enlargement could encourage 'fertility tourists' to travel to Eastern Europe for cheap IVF, doctors have warned.

Treatment in countries such as Hungary and Slovenia costs around 2,400 euros (1,608), compared to between 2,000 and 4,000 in the UK.

IVF success rates are as good in Eastern Europe as elsewhere, but clinics are often unregulated.

The warning came at the European fertility conference in Berlin.

I can understand why people could be tempted to go abroad.
Suzi Leather
Three out of four couples having IVF in the UK currently have to pay for their treatment.

The NHS watchdog, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, recommended that women aged between 23 and 39, who have been trying to have a baby for more than three years, should be offered three cycles of IVF.

But the government over-ruled the institute, saying the NHS should only be obliged to offer one cycle.


Preliminary data on assisted reproduction rates from 22 countries across Europe was collected by doctors from the Fertility Clinic, the Rigshospitalet at Copenhagen University.

They found that the availability of assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF was highest in Denmark, with 1,923 cycles per million of the population in 2001 - the most recent year for which data is available.

But Slovenia was ranked fifth, with 1,122 cycles per million and Hungary 578.

In contrast, the UK carried out 593 cycles per million.

Pregnancy rates were also comparable in eastern European countries.

In Slovenia, couples had a 36% chance of pregnancy from one cycle of IVF treatment, compared to 31.9% in Hungary and 28.4% in the UK.

Pregnancy rates for ICSI, where one sperm is put directly into an egg to fertilise it, were 30% in Slovenia, 25% in Hungary, and 27% in the UK.

'No certainty'

Professor Karl Nygren, one of the report's authors, said: "With EU enlargement and the increasing freedom of movement this brings, it has become even more important that countries collect accurate and complete data on the assisted reproduction technology carried out in their clinics.

"Discrepancies in prices between countries, particularly between east and west, means that it is vital that potential patients can compare not only prices, but also the quality and efficacy of the treatments on offer."

Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "I can understand why people could be tempted to go abroad.

"But where treatment is not regulated, there is no way that patients can be sure of safety or of the results advertised by the clinics.

"In the UK, all patients are offered counselling, and they can also have the reassurance of knowing that they can talk to their own doctor at any time if they are worried, either during or after their treatment."

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