HFEA consults on ways to reduce avoidable problems for IVF babies

Fertility regulator launches public consultation to find best ways of reducing the proportion of multiple births after IVF

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is launching a public consultation on April 4 to find the best way to reduce avoidable problems for IVF children and their mothers who can suffer serious and long-term complications from twin births.

The HFEA will be listening closely to patients and professionals over the next three months to find the best way of reducing the proportion of multiple births after IVF. The key aim is to find the most effective way to do this whilst still allowing clinicians to tailor their treatment to each woman's individual circumstances and without prejudicing her chances of IVF success. Public meetings for both patients and clinicians will be held during the consultation to allow debate and further feedback into the consultation.

The consultation paper proposes four main options to help clinics reduce multiple birth rates:

  • increasing awareness of multiple births risks among clinics and patients and encourage increased use of single embryo transfer
  • to phase in a maximum twin rate of 10% which clinics must not exceed
  • to develop HFEA guidance to define when only one embryo should be replaced
  • to apply HFEA guidance for single embryo transfer if clinics exceed twin rate of 10%.

The consultation follows last year's report by a group of experts, including fertility clinicians and patients, chaired by Professor Peter Braude from King's College London. The group agreed that IVF children must be given a better chance to be born as healthy, full-term, singletons with a normal birthweight. The Braude report further recommended that the only safe way to reduce the risk for IVF babies was to move towards transferring one embryo in those women with the best chance of IVF success. This would not mean that all women would have a single embryo transferred or that double embryo transfers will be banned.  Instead, they suggested that a woman with a good chance of IVF success should have her embryos implanted one at a time, with frozen cycles following the initial fresh transfer, to reduce the risk multiple births pose to herself and the children she might carry.

A number of key professional bodies and patient organisations are expected to participate in the public consultation and the meetings to give their views on the best way to make IVF safer. The consultation is due to report in Autumn 2007.

Shirley Harrison, Chair of the HFEA, said:

"We know that multiple birth is the single biggest risk of IVF. "It is our primary job as a regulator to make sure that IVF treatment is safe and appropriate. We want clinics to reduce multiple births and minimise the risks for both mothers and the children they are carrying.

"The most important thing that we are looking for in this consultation is to find a solution that is workable in practice for all involved. Proper consultation is much more than just presenting the issues, it is about listening to the views of a wide range of people so that we can work together towards the best possible outcome for mothers and their children.

"This consultation will be about finding a way to reduce the risk of multiple births without prejudicing women's chances of IVF in a way which doctors feel they can work with whilst still tailoring their treatment to the individual circumstances of each patient they see."


Notes to editors

Information about the consultation and other background can be found on the HFEA website.

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.

For further information please contact the HFEA press office.

Contact the press office

HFEA Press Office
Tel: 020 7291 8226

Email: press.office@hfea.gov.uk

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

Page last updated: 11 March 2009

Policy review: multiple births

Dictionary entry of the word policyMultiple pregnancy is the greatest health risk for women following IVF.

The HFEA carried out a review and public consultation to identify the most suitable policy for reducing these rates.

...more about the review