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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
IVF multiple embryo use reviewed
twins
Just under a quarter of IVF births in 2002 - 03 resulted in twins
The UK's fertility watchdog is to consider whether women undergoing IVF should only be able to have one embryo implanted at a time.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is to review if the UK should follow other European countries which only transfer one embryo.

Clinics in the UK usually transfer two or three.

But many doctors say the resulting multiple births can carry risks for both mother and child.

There is still a severe lack of NHS funding for fertility treatment and we understand that some couples are willing to take these risks
Clare Brown, Infertility Network UK

The children's health and development can be affected, they have an increased risk of cerebral palsy and they are more likely to die around the time of their birth.

Twins or triplet births also lead to increased costs for their families and the NHS.

The HFEA says it can cost 10 times more to care for a set of triplets in the first year of their lives than a single baby.

In 2002 to 2003 only 9.1% of IVF cycles involved a single embryo transfer. Just over three quarters involved the transfer of two embryos transferred back to the woman and the remainder received three.

Three quarters of births following IVF treatment resulted in a single child, 23.6% were twins and 0.5% were triplets.

Patient opinion

In January last year the HFEA launched a policy limiting clinics to transferring two embryos to women under 40 and a maximum of three to those over 40, which will have seen a further reduction in three-embryo transfers.

Couples undergoing fertility treatment often want to have more than one embryo implanted to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy with a cycle of costly IVF treatment.

The HFEA has said it will canvass the views of fertility doctors and other professional organisations, plus patient groups.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, said: "We know that the biggest risk from fertility treatment is caused by multiple births - having twins or triplets - and this is a risk both to the mother and to the children born."

She added: "Women are designed to have healthy babies, one at a time, and with natural conception this is what usually happens.

"The HFEA wants to see the results of fertility treatment come closer to what occurs naturally."

But she added: "We would not want to see any changes that would have a negative impact on the current fertility services in the UK or on the treatment of our patients."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it welcomed the HFEA review.

Success

She added: "There is no doubt that this is the way for the future and if we are serious about reducing the risk of multiple pregnancy it is the only option in practice.

"Ten years ago the RCOG strongly supported a reduction in the number of embryos transferred to two and more recently has supported work on single embryo transfer.

"There is now considerable experience from Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Holland where the introduction of single embryo transfer has been associated with a marked reduction in twin pregnancy rates but with no reduction in overall success rates."

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, warned: "There is still a severe lack of NHS funding for fertility treatment and we understand that some couples are willing to take these risks, particularly where they receive no NHS funding and can only afford to pay for one private cycle.

"They are willing to risk twins or even triplets to allow them to have the family they so desperately want."

She said couples often thought that their chances of success were higher when more than one embryo was transferred, and continued research was needed to help improve success rates.


SEE ALSO:
IVF multiple births 'drain NHS'
23 Jun 05 |  Health
IVF 'should use one embryo'
29 Jun 04 |  Health
Big rise in multiple birth rate
17 Feb 04 |  Health


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