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Press Release: Multiple births success as HFEA publishes first “state of the IVF sector” report

The HFEA has today launched its first-ever “state of the sector” report, providing an overview of the UK’s fertility sector, including the success in reducing multiple birth rates to just over 10% of all IVF births.

The report, which brings together previously separate reports on incidents, inspection findings and patient feedback, records how fertility clinics and research laboratories performed in the financial year 2016-17 across a range of criteria. It is designed to give both clinics and patients a rounded view of the health of the UK’s fertility sector.

It shows that through working with the UK’s licensed clinics, the HFEA has reduced the national multiple birth rate from 24% in 2009 to 11% today, a fantastic achievement which has increased the safety of IVF for mothers and their babies and reduced the burden on NHS ante- and neonatal services. This has come without a reduction in birth or pregnancy rates, with the latter rising from 24% in 2008 to 32% today.

The report also shows that in 2016-17 there were 132 treatment and research clinics working under licence in this country, of which 34% are privately run, 29% are in public/private partnership, and 22% are NHS only (the remaining 15% are research only). During that same year the HFEA carried out 81 inspections as part of its yearly inspection cycle.

There is also specific focus on how patients experience treatment, and the new ways being developed to receive patient feedback and pass it on to clinics. A new star rating system has recently been launched on the HFEA website, giving patients the chance to rate their clinic directly and which has already been used over 700 times.

Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair of the HFEA welcomed this new report as a sign of open and healthy governance and the continuing commitment to improving patient care:

“This report shows the full range of work, undertaken by both us and clinics, that lies behind the more than 76,000 treatment cycles performed in the UK each year, and outlines the importance of us working together to ensure patients, donors and the donor-conceived get the highest possible quality care.

“It is particularly pleasing to see that the multiple births rate has fallen consistently across the vast majority of the sector and is now very close to the 10% target we set for clinics some years ago, without a reduction in births. And it is heartening to be able to discuss with clinics real examples of patient experiences. It’s so important that patients have a voice, and I hope that the UK’s clinics will listen to what is being said.”

The report also details non-compliances, including adverse incidents, and areas for improvement. In many ways, there has been good progress, with fewer than 10 instances of non-compliance identified by inspectors in 14 main areas of the Code of Practice across all clinics in 2016-17. And of the 299 reported non-compliances overall (a slight rise from the previous year), almost all were resolved within the deadline set. This shows a sector that is open to constructive feedback and continuous improvement.

However, performance wasn’t all positive and the report reveals some areas for concern. The number of reported incidents increased from 497 in 2015 to 540 in 2016. Of these, 325 were categorised as ‘grade C’, 176 were classed as ‘grade B’, with one ‘grade A’ incident – the most severe.   

Sally Cheshire CBE urged clinics to consider the impact incidents have on patients, and ensure Britain’s IVF sector maintains the highest standards:

“While the number of incidents and non-compliances must be placed in the context of the many thousands of treatments being performed in the UK each year, the fact is that all incidents, whatever the category, can be very upsetting for patients and must

be avoided wherever possible. Non-compliances risk undermining the hard-won reputation for quality and rigour that the UK’s fertility sector has established over the last 25 years.

“In line with our commitment to open, frank and constructive regulation, we will continue to work with all our licensed clinics so that they strive to continually improve and maximise the chances of success for patients seeking their much longed-for families.”

Read the full report (PDF 1.4 MB)


For all media enquiries please contact the HFEA press office on 020 7291 8226,  07771 981 920 (out of hours) or via 

Notes to editors:

Using a ‘grading matrix’, incidents are designated as either grade A, B, C, or as ‘near misses’ or ‘not incidents’.

Categorised objectively according to severity, grade A incidents are regarded as the most serious and grade C the least. ‘Near misses’ are ‘unplanned events that do not result in injury, illness or damage, but had the potential to do so and only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented something adverse occurring.

The grading of an incident determines the HFEA’s response:

  • Grade A incidents, such as where a patient is implanted with someone else’s embryo, are investigated immediately upon it being reported, including an on-site inspection, a report of which is passed to the HFEA’s Licence Committee.
  • Grade B incidents, for example where a patient’s embryos are lost, are investigated by the clinic, which then reports to the HFEA within 10 working days, after which the inspection team decides, on the facts, whether an inspection is required.
  • Grade C incidents, such as where one of a patient’s eggs may be rendered unusable but others remain, so that her opportunity for treatment is not completely lost, are investigated by the clinic and the HFEA expects a report to be produced by the clinic, although not necessarily submitted for assessment. The HFEA then logs the incident on its database for future reference.

Publication date: 2 January 2018

Review date: 2 January 2020