A report has indicated for the first time the cost faced by the UK's NHS as it copes with multiple births resulting from IVF patients treated abroad. New research undertaken by the Fetal Medicine Unit at University College London Hospital (UCLH) makes a link between higher order multiple pregnancies (triplets and above) and the numbers of women travelling to other countries for fertility treatment.
The ten-year study carried out in London and revealed in Montreal last week at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) 7th International Scientific Meeting, showed that of the 94 women expecting three babies or more as a result of IVF treatment, 24 of them had received their treatment abroad. The women were treated in countries including Cyprus, Algeria, France, Germany, Belgium, the US, Greece, India and Japan and were reported to be 18 per cent less likely than their UK-treated equivalents to opt for embryo reduction.
The research highlights the potential dangers to women seeking IVF treatment abroad where there is less regulation of the numbers of embryos transferred into the womb; UK regulation recommends that in most cases only one embryo is implanted to reduce the instances of multiple births which are linked to dangerous and often life-threatening conditions for mother and baby.
Dr Alastair McKelvey, lead author of the study, believes that international agreement on this particular aspect of women's health needs to be agreed upon in order to reduce the 'huge cost burden' of increased ante- and neonatal care associated with multiple births. Recent research carried out by Sheffield University found that the extra care required by IVF twins and triplets cost the NHS £9,000 and £32,000 respectively. Dr McKelvey said: 'triplet, quadruplet and higher order multiple pregnancies are very challenging high-risk pregnancies. We were concerned, through personal experience, about the extent of this problem and its link to unregulated fertility care on the world market. National regulatory bodies can be sidestepped by couples desperate for a baby and ... fertility treatments can lead them to serious adverse consequences'.
British women and couples have many reasons for travelling abroad for IVF treatment. These include higher success rates due to transferral of more embryos, cheaper treatment, and availability of more 'ethnically acceptable' embryos. Women then return to the UK where the NHS provides care for their babies who often number more than two and are therefore more likely to be born prematurely.