Inspections show that patients need more information on fertility treatment

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - the fertility regulator – have analysed the performance of all the clinics offering IVF and donor insemination to provide an overall picture of standards in the UK.

The report, Driving improvement - Lessons from the UK's fertility sector, was based on an analysis of last year's clinic inspections, patient complaints and reported incidents between 1 April 2005 and 31 March 2006.

In general, the majority of clinics are meeting most of the standards expected by the HFEA and provide a good service for patients; the analysis found 80 per cent of clinics providing fertility treatment broadly met 79 per cent of the standards set. 

However, there are some clear areas where improvement is required across the sector, the key areas are:

  • Information for patients – should be clear, accurate, comprehensive and up to date - nearly half (47%) of clinics did not meet the required standard
  • Counselling – too often patients did not have adequate access to counselling
  • Consent – poor information and limited opportunities for discussion led to problems with properly informed consent
  • Lab procedures – proper lab procedures to minimise the chance of adverse IVF incidents
  • Safe equipment – important not just for ensuring that current treatment is safe but also for ensuring the safety of sperm, eggs or embryos kept for patients in the long term

The report also contains a breakdown of incidents and patient complaints.  Most incidents were related to laboratory procedures while complaints were normally associated with the attitude of staff during the patient consultation or the information they had received.

A key role for the HFEA as regulator is to bring this information together so that clinics can learn from each other's experiences and drive improvement across the fertility sector as a whole. Where improvements are necessary, most clinics are quick to respond and work well with us to raise their standards, although a few persistently cause concern and are slow to comply with requirements.

The analysis found that six clinics were responsible for nearly a quarter (23%) of the problems found in the fertility sector in a year.  HFEA inspectors found that these clinics had systemic problems caused by poor leadership and control. 

Angela McNab, Chief Executive, HFEA said:

"Most clinics do a good job and most patients say they are very happy with the treatment they receive. However, there is always room for improvement, even at the very best clinics.  We want to see standards continue to improve and learning from others' experience is one of the most powerful ways to do this, which is why we have produced this report.

"The key thing that clinics can improve on is their patient information.  Patients must have clear, accurate, comprehensive information and given the opportunity to explore fully its implications. Together information and counselling are of particular concern, as without access to all the facts, patients can not give proper informed consent.

"We have a range of powers that we have used during the year to push forward improvement in clinics.  In clinics where we have found systemic weakness and poor leadership, we have introduced a new assessment and professional development process to tackle this and strengthen the standards of management and operation."


Notes to editors

The HFEA is the independent regulator for IVF treatment and embryo research. Our role is to protect patients and the public interest, to drive improvement in the treatment and research sectors and to provide information to the public and policymakers about treatment and research.

The HFEA was set up in August 1991 as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The HFEA's principal tasks are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination (DI) and human embryo research. The HFEA also regulates the storage of gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos.

Contact the press office

HFEA Press Office
Tel: 020 7291 8226


Out of hours urgent press contact: 07771 981 920 (for media enquiries only.)

Page last updated: 11 March 2009

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