In 2012, the IVF sector in the UK helped to bring about 17,673 IVF births
and 1,800 donor-conception births, the happy outcome of nearly 68,000 cycles of
treatment. That's in a context of declining multiple birth rates, which the
sector brought about without significantly affecting success rates for
IVF in the UK is thriving. But is it as good as it could be? Could the
quality of care be higher? Could success rates increase further? Most
importantly, do patients and donors feel well cared for in the clinic? And do
they, and the children they produce, feel well-supported in the years that
At the HFEA, these questions are now uppermost in our minds. With the
future of IVF regulation clear, we want to think about how we can help to get
the best out of the IVF sector in the UK. As the IVF regulator, we clearly need
to do our core business - inspection, licensing, providing donor information -
well. That will always preoccupy us. But an effective regulator should surely do
much more than checking compliance with requirements.
We’ve started to think about what that 'more' should be. Unsurprisingly,
we believe that the quality of care for patients is what matters most. With this
in mind, we have set out our strategic goals:
- The patient: We will put patients' interests and safety first.
- Donor conception: We will improve the lifelong experience for
donors, donor conceived people, patients using donor conception, and their
- Quality: We will work with clinics to improve quality of care for
the direct benefit of patients.
Earlier this month we published a consultation to
help us develop these goals into a concrete set of priorities. We've come up
with some ideas which we started to test out at our recent conference. For
those who couldn’t make the conference, the presentations from the day are
available on our conference microsite, which we will
add to over time.
One of the issues we want to consider is whether patient feedback about
their experience of treatment in a particular clinic should be used to improve
services. Clinics obviously ask patients directly and make changes to their
service in response to their feedback. Around the date of a clinic's
inspection, we also ask for patient feedback about their experience of
treatment: whether they were given the right information and an opportunity to
see a counsellor and whether they were treated with dignity. We use the
findings to help us assess the clinic's performance and compliance and we
summarise our findings in an inspection report which is published on our
It's unlikely that prospective patients, when choosing a clinic, look at
a clinic's performance in that much detail. After all, their main concern is
the clinic's success rate. But shouldn't patients have richer information on
which to base their decision? We know that many patients come to our website to
use our Choose a Fertility Clinic tool — 15,000 a month do so. If they were
able to see feedback from fellow patients about a clinic — whether live and
unmoderated or aggregated from questionnaires — that would give them more to go
on. And, importantly, it might improve the quality of care in all clinics. If
clinics know that patients are choosing a clinic not just on clinical outcomes,
but also on patient feedback, it would sharpen their focus on the experience of
treatment, rather than merely the outcome.
In other areas of our lives, we are increasingly using such tools to
make choices about the public services we use and the things that we buy.
Should such an approach be used in IVF? You can give us your view by taking
part in our consultation and completing the questionnaire by 28 March 2014.