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HFEA decides against licence fee increase

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

22 October 2004

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[BioNews, London] The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which licenses all work carried out on human embryos in the UK, has decided to abandon its plans for a steep increase in licence fees. The authority proposed the fee changes earlier this year and sent them out for consultation before 30 June. Now, although fees will still rise, the increases involved will not be so extreme.

One of the changes that the HFEA proposed was that the fee for processing a research project licence be increased from ?200 to ?6000 - a 30-fold increase. It claimed at the time that the changes were 'necessary' in order to comply with government rules that regulation should be paid for by those being regulated, i.e. the clinics themselves. Another suggestion was that a scale of fees, ranging from ?3000 to ?9000, should be established.

Many scientists carrying out embryo research said at the time that such a hike in fees would 'stifle' research, especially in emerging areas such as human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. A number of scientists and clinicians expressed their concerns at the first session of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry on the laws governing human reproductive technologies, held in June.

Now, reports the Scientist magazine, a senior HFEA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has said that the plans to increase the licence fees have been scrapped. According to the source, the Department of Health (DH) has changed its mind and allowed the HFEA to subsidise its processing cost from its government grant. This should ameliorate the need to increase licence fees so drastically. In new proposals, said to be currently with DH ministers for approval, fees will only increase to ?750 for a three-year licence for a large, complex project, and just ?500 for smaller projects. The source said that they 'think it very unlikely that the Department of Health will not accept the proposal'.

The scientific community has mostly welcomed the change, saying that it is good news for medical research in the UK. 'Stem cell research is a fledgling area of research that needs all the help it can get', said Simon Festing, director of the Association of Medical Research Charities. He added, 'In the face of international competition, the government should apply a light touch to the regulation of medical research'. However, other, smaller, areas of research may still feel the pinch. Alison Murdoch, head of IVF research at the University of Newcastle and chair of the British Fertility Society, said that ?750 would still be a lot of money for an IVF clinic. 'It would pay for half an IVF treatment', she said.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 22 October 2004   Date Updated: 22 October 2004
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