An article in last week's New Scientist magazine has said that IVF 'league tables' encourage bad practice. In order to achieve better success rates, fertility clinics are tempted to implant a greater number of embryos, for example, which can lead to multiple births. This can be dangerous for both the mother and the babies she carries.
Other practices include clinics recommending IVF treatment when it is not absolutely necessary, or offering treatment only to younger women, who are more likely to achieve pregnancy.
In the UK, annual statistics on the success of IVF clinics - measured in terms of the live birth rate per cycle - are published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and in the US, by the Centres for Disease Control. Both organisations maintain that there is no 'ranking system' of IVF treatment centres.
In the UK, the HFEA has issued guidelines to clinics saying that no more than two embryos should be implanted in one IVF attempt. However, Sam Abdalla, a London fertility doctor, told the New Scientist 'not a lot of us follow that. If you want to do well in the tables, you put in more embryos'. Ann Furedi, from the HFEA, commented that she found it difficult to believe that this was common practice in clinics: 'there is a pressure to implant more than two, but we could take their licence away'.