HFEA publishes new guide to infertility
Dr Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust09 June 2006
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has published a new edition - in hard copy and online - of its annual 'Guide to Infertility'. The Guide contains details of all UK clinics that are licensed under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and donor insemination (DI), although it does not contain information on other 'lower-tech treatments' that may be carried out by other doctors or hospitals. It also has an online search facility that patients can use to find information about clinics so they can choose the right clinic for their particular needs.
The Guide gives information about the causes of infertility and potential treatments, detailed information - including success rates - for all the 85 individual licensed treatment centres in the UK, and 'real-life' patient stories. The data in the Guide show that birth rates for women undergoing IVF in the UK have continued to increase. The data was based on results from 38,264 treatment cycles undertaken by 29,688 women between 1 April 2003 and 31 March 2004.
Overall, the average IVF success rate (measured in terms of 'live births') for all IVF cycles was 21.6 per cent. The guide shows that, for women under 35 years old, the average success rate is 28 per cent, although some clinics have much higher success rates than others. The data also show that the chances of success decline with age - the success rate falls to 3.2 per cent in women over 42 years old. The top performing clinic had a success rate of 53.8 per cent.
Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the HFEA, said that 'one in seven couples across the UK, roughly 3.5 million, have trouble conceiving and we know that when people start to experience fertility problems they eagerly search out all the information they can on the subject'. She added that 'patients are becoming increasingly demanding of information to help them choose their medical care. The new HFEA Guide to Infertility and interactive clinic search provides the single and authoritative source of expert information that people can trust'. However, Dr Allan Pacey, spokesman for the British Fertility Society, said that the published figures would encourage patients to judge clinics by their success rate alone. 'If you properly analyse the clinics there's very little difference between their success rates', he added. Fertility expert Lord Robert Winston, also criticised the tables, saying that they 'don't compare like with like'. He added: 'There's no way patients can assess how well a clinic is doing from these tables because some clinics go out of their way to treat difficult cases; others try to treat easy cases'.
In the light of the figures, the HFEA has also warned that multiple births from IVF remained high, even though the figures showed a decline on the previous year. Nearly one in four IVF births resulted in either twins or triplets. Angela McNab, the HFEA's Chief Executive, said that it is 'still concerned about the levels of twin and triplet pregnancies, which provide the single biggest risk to mothers and their children from IVF treatment'. She added: 'Multiple births risk endangering the health of both mother and the children they are carrying and can lead to problems which can last a child's lifetime'.
Dame Leather called on the government to offer patients more NHS-funded treatment cycles to encourage a move towards single embryo transfer. 'The biggest risk for those having fertility treatment is still the risk of having a multiple birth and this year we have been even more explicit about those risks', she said. Last week, a study by Finnish researchers, published in the journal Human Reproduction, showed that implantation of a single IVF embryo is just as successful as double transfer in older women. The study, which analysed 1224 IVF or ICSI cycles using fresh embryos, and 828 using thawed embryos, in women aged between 36 and 39, showed that careful embryo selection helped to improve results. The authors say that it is the quality of the embryo that is the most important factor in determining whether the treatment will be successful.
The new interactive HFEA Guide to Infertility can be accessed on the HFEA website at
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.