HFEA Crackdown on IVF Clinics

In May 2017 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announced it would investigate alleged breaches of its code of conduct (read more here.) This followed worrying headlines about "cash for eggs", the value of expensive "add-on" fertility treatments and misinformation given to patients at UK fertility clinics.

In its capacity as the government watchdog of UK fertility clinics, the HFEA launched a major investigation into these allegations and announced its findings this week.  It found its code of practice had been breached. It took action which included: placing a restriction on a clinic licence banning egg-sharing until improvements were made, requiring clinicians to ensure patients are given accurate information and statistics, directing changes to clinic advertising and website information. In addition, it reprimanded clinics for selling expensive egg-freezing treatments to women using misleading information and exaggerating success rates.

HFEA strategy

The HFEA also recently announced its strategy for 2017-2020 in its continued role as the UK fertility clinic regulator. It stated in its annual report for 2016/17:

"This year has not been without its challenges.  We have seen continued media and public interest in the area we regulate, with a focus on so-called add on treatments on offer within the sector. We all want innovation in fertility services and treatment. What's crucial is how those innovations are introduced into clinical practice.

Looking ahead, we recently launched our new strategy for 2017 to 2020. High quality treatment and support remains at the heart of what we do. Safe, effective, evidence-based care, excellent emotional support throughout treatment, and high quality research underpinning continued scientific and clinical advances, not just in the best clinics, but in all".

The HFEA's new strategy states "our vision is high quality care for everyone affected by fertility treatment" which will focus its efforts on:

Safe, ethical, effective treatment:

  • high quality, safe care
  • effective evidence based treatments and treatment "adds ons" that are well explained
  • high quality research and responsible innovation

Consistent outcomes and support:

  • access to treatment and donation
  • the best possible treatment outcomes
  • value for money
  • support before, during and after treatment

Improving standards through intelligence:

  • data and feedback used for improvement
  • targeted regulatory interventions
  • increased use of patient feedback
  • a reshaped HFEA, to use our data well

Importance of specialist legal advice

Whilst this is laudable, more needs to be done to acknowledge and ensure expert fertility, parenting and family law advice is an integral part of fertility treatment and the parenthood journey.  Parents, children, donors, and surrogates need legal understanding and protection as much as medical protection and safeguards. Assisted conception, parenthood, donation and surrogacy creates a lifelong legal legacy. Medical protocols and procedures are simply not enough.

Fertility patients are expected to give informed consent to treatment at UK clinics. They must sign consent forms governing their legal status, rights and responsibilities for their eggs, sperm, embryos and future children and family. This requires tailored fertility, parenting and family law advice to understand the issues, implications and outcomes in the short, medium and longer term in each case. Why leave these matters to busy doctors and nurses who are medically trained and not legally qualified?

The UK is also amongst the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe. Specialist fertility, parenting and family law advice helps fertility patients understand and navigate the short, medium and longer term legal, financial and practical implications of their family building and what could happen if family life doesn't go to plan. Specialist legal advice is an important safeguard at the outset of fertility treatment and any family building arrangement.

Modern families and particularly those created with the involvement of assisted conception, known donors, co-parents, surrogates and donor gametes create added layers of legal complexity and potential problems. Law is evolving but it doesn't automatically meet the needs and expectations of modern-day living. You can read more here. Expert fertility, parenting and family law advice is not an "add on".  It is an integral part of the process.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or find out more about UK fertility, family and parenting law, contact Louisa Ghevaert by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com or by telephone +44 (0)207 7886382.