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Panorama
IVF regulator struggling to keep up

Dipping into the world of fertility treatment for Panorama over the last few months has been something of an eye-opener.

I had always assumed it was a world that was very tightly regulated. But our investigation reveals that the HFEA is struggling to keep up with what's happening inside Britain's fertility clinics.

In Hampshire, embryologist Paul Fielding was jailed earlier this year for deceiving dozens of his patients. He'd told them he was freezing their embryos, when he wasn't.

Some even had what they thought were thawed embryos placed back inside them when in fact, it was salt water.

Risky and painful

The regulator knew Paul Fielding had no success with frozen embryo transfers for three years, yet did nothing.

Shelley Jofre

But when the case hit the headlines, the public didn't hear about the gross failure of the HFEA to stop Fielding's deception at a much earlier stage.

The regulator knew he had no success with frozen embryo transfers for three years, yet did nothing.

One in four fertility treatment attempts fails, so it's hardly surprising that some women will take desperate measures to try to get pregnant.

Many women, who need treatment but can't afford the 2,000 to 3,000 that each attempt costs, are attracted to egg-sharing schemes that are being run in clinics around the country.

If they have healthy eggs they can share some of them with another woman who needs eggs for her own treatment. That woman then the woman funds some of the donor's treatment.

Battery hen

Professor Ian Craft
Professor Ian Craft says his egg giving scheme gives a better chance of pregnancy
It sounds like a win-win situation. But donating eggs is a risky and often painful procedure. And what happens if the recipient gets pregnant and the donor doesn't, or vice versa?

One Harley Street doctor has taken egg-sharing a step further and made it even riskier for the woman giving away her eggs.

A donor on Professor Ian Craft's egg-giving scheme gives a whole harvest to the woman paying for her treatment, then has have a second harvest collected to use for her own treatment.

Professor Craft says it gives both women a higher chance of getting pregnant, which must sound attractive to both sides.

But when it doesn't work according to plan, it can leave the donor feeling like little more than a battery hen.

Tricky

Kylie Sidney
Kylie Sidney said she felt traumatised after having her eggs harvested
Women who agree to donate their eggs purely as an act of charity have been left feeling equally cheated.

One altruistic donor we spoke to agreed to give her eggs to a childless couple, only to discover straight after the operation that they'd pulled out. She hadn't produced enough eggs and they didn't want to waste their money using them in a course of IVF if there was little chance of success.

Another woman became ill after taking drugs to stimulate her ovaries, but the clinic went ahead with the operation to remove her eggs anyway. Afterwards, she had to spend five days in hospital and the consultant said she could have died.

Kylie Sidney told the programme she felt "emotionally traumatised" by the experience.

She added: "I was in a lot of pain. Basically, it was the worst pain I'd had and I've given birth to two children naturally."

There's no doubt that the regulator has a tough job to do. The commercial pressures for private clinics to get results have never been greater and policing them must be tricky.

But it's clear from our investigation some patients feel badly let down by the HFEA.

Panorama: The Baby Business was broadcast on Sunday 6 July on BBC One at 22:15 BST

Panorama: The baby business

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