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Expert says IVF couples exploited

31 May 07 10:53 GMT

The IVF industry is exploiting UK couples, charging them over the odds for treatment, fertility expert Lord Robert Winston said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales, the Imperial College London professor also criticised the fertility watchdog the HFEA on its duty of care.

The HFEA maintained it policed clinics and provided information to patients.

One private IVF clinic said it was impossible to generalise about the private sector.

Lord Winston said couples were being overcharged for fertility treatments, and some were being offered embryo screening tests for which there was no clinical justification.

He criticised doctors in the UK for overpriced treatments, and said it was "rather depressing" to consider that some IVF treatments in London cost 10 times the fees charged in Melbourne, Australia.

Commercialisation a problem

There are 85 licensed fertility clinics in the UK, and treatments at private clinics cost between £4,000 and £8,000 per cycle.

According to the latest figures, more than 30,000 patients underwent IVF in 2004, and the HFEA estimates around 80% of treatments are performed privately.

Lord Winston said: "One of the major problems facing us in healthcare is that IVF has become a massive commercial industry.

"It's very easy to exploit people by the fact that they're desperate and you've got the technology which they want, which may not work."

He said clinicians and scientists doing the work did not want to explore the implications of treatments and were not engaging with the public.

But Dr Rajat Goswamy, medical director of the Harley Street Fertility Centre, said it was impossible to generalise about the private sector, and that many clinics were not offering some of the more controversial treatments available.

He said the costs of IVF treatments in London had to be high to cover staffing and rental costs.

Patient information vital

Lord Winston also criticised the HFEA, saying it had done a "consistently bad job" at providing information to couples and limiting the availability of unscientific treatments.

The HFEA said it did hold clinics accountable to ensure the safety and appropriateness of IVF treatments.

A spokeswoman said: "We consider patient information to be extremely important, and so produce a wide range of information for patients."

She said the HFEA also scrutinised the quality of information given to patients by clinics, but that it did not have a role in regulating treatments other than IVF procedures offered by clinics.

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