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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Fertility clinics fear ID fraud
By Caroline Ryan
BBC News, Prague

IVF sample
There is concern over the checks process
Fertility clinics fear they are at risk of identity fraud by patients, say UK researchers.

A survey of 45 clinics found 37% had experienced or suspected ID fraud, a European fertility conference heard.

The study, by London's St Bartholomew's Hospital, took place after a couple came back for IVF treatment, even though the male partner had changed.

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority denied ID fraud was a significant problem.

Our overwhelming feeling is that there are insufficient measures to protect the unit, the parents' legal rights, and most importantly the future welfare and well-being of the unborn child
Dr Luca Sabatini

It said there had only been a handful of ID fraud cases in the last three years.

Fort-five of the UK's 86 IVF clinics took part in the survey.

One in four clinics admitted they did not check patients' identity at all.

And more than half felt they did not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent ID fraud.

HFEA rules say clinics should use signatures and referral letters as means of identifying patients.

Long-term treatment

But Dr Luca Sabatini, from Bart's, said photo IDs would help confirm people were who they said they were.

He said patients may not want to go back to the beginning of the treatment process again, even though one partner had changed.

In addition, a woman might want to use sperm from a younger man while maintaining that an older partner is the legal father

Dr Sabatini added: "Fraudulent behaviour may be fuelled by financial pressures, as the cost of treatment is high and public resources are limited.

"A patient may use a false identity in an attempt to have access to public funding from which he or she would otherwise be precluded.

"Or there may be more personal reasons, such as a change of partner during treatment."

He added: "A considerable length of time may pass between the couple's referral from the family doctor and the start of treatment, or during the fertility investigations which are necessary before treatment can commence.

"During this time a relationship break-up may occur, and one partner may try to continue the treatment with a different subject."

Legal consequences

And he warned that ID fraud could lead to legal disputes between IVF providers and deceived partners who discover they are not the genetic parents of their children.

This flawed and contradictory study does not reflect the day-to-day reality of UK fertility treatment
Stephanie Sullivan

Dr Sabatini warned that it could also be harmful for any resulting children not to known their true genetic heritage.

He added: "Although identify fraud among patients is still a relatively infrequent event, it has important medico-legal ramifications.

"Our overwhelming feeling is that there are insufficient measures to protect the unit, the parents' legal rights, and most importantly the future welfare and well-being of the unborn child."

The researchers plan to extend their work to look at clinics across Europe, and will carry out another survey in a year¿s time to see if the situation has changed.

They say any regulations would need to be Europe-wide to prevent ID fraud in fertility tourism.

But Stephanie Sullivan, head of patient safety and clinical governance at the HFEA, said: "This flawed and contradictory study does not reflect the day-to-day reality of UK fertility treatment.

"In our frequent discussions, neither the clinics nor the HFEA have identified this as a significant ongoing issue.

"We provide clear guidance to all clinics that they should provide proper checks on identity and continue to do this throughout the course of treatment.

"Over the last three years UK clinics have provided more than 100,000 IVF treatments and there have been no more than 10 cases where identity has even been an issue."

Professor Paul Devroey, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, recomended that patients should be asked to produce photographic identity, and a hospital treatment card at every treatment visit.


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