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Quangoing, Going, Gone: What Should Happen to the HFEA?

Progress Educational Trust
Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin Building, University College London, Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT
11 September 2012
This public event was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Anne McLaren Memorial Fund, and was held at University College London.
An evening debate at University College London, organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Anne McLaren Memorial Fund. The debate is free to attend, but advance booking is required. If you email Sandy Starr at sstarr@progress.org.uk then he will add you to the attendee list.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has regulated fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK for more than 20 years, but this has not been enough to secure its future. The passing of the Public Bodies Act 2011 means that the HFEA's functions can now be transferred to other organisations, in order to meet the UK Government's aim of cutting NHS administrative costs by more than a third.
The Government has launched a public consultation on what should happen to the HFEA's functions. One proposal is to transfer all of these functions elsewhere and then abolish the HFEA. Another is to retain the HFEA but in a streamlined, more cost-effective form. Then there is the vexed question of to whom the HFEA's functions might be transferred. The options, and some of the questions they raise, are as follows.
Organisations that might take on fertility regulation include the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the arm's-length body that regulates and inspects health and social care services and that already shares headquarters with the HFEA. But questions have been raised over whether the CQC is fit to take on HFEA responsibilities, in light of recent criticism and the recommendation of the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee that 'the CQC should not take on the functions of the HFEA at this time'.
Organisations that might take on embryo research regulation include the Health Research Authority, a new NHS organisation established last year that is (subject to Parliamentary approval) due to become an 'arm's-length body' or quango. Is the creation of new quangos consistent with the aim of cutting costs by reorganising existing ones?
Organisations that might take on the HFEA register of information include the Health and Social Care Information Centre, an NHS organisation that acts as a focal point for national data collections. The HFEA register contains copious, intricate and sensitive donor conception data, both from the era when sperm and egg donors were anonymous and from the present era when donors are identifiable. Will the centrality, security and integrity of this register be maintained?
Some of the HFEA's functions might be taken on by the Government's own Department of Health. Would a return of functions to central Government redress the problem (common to all quangos) of organisations deriving power from Government without being similarly and democratically accountable? Has the Government missed an opportunity to carry out a thorough audit of current HFEA activities, to determine which activities are required by statute and which are a consequence of 'mission creep'?
A synopsis of the event proceedings (by Cait McDonagh) can be found on PET's BioNews publication here.

Speakers:
Dr Sue Avery
Director of the Fertility Centre at Birmingham Women's Hospital and Researcher at the University of Birmingham's Stem Cell Centre
Frank Dobson MP
Labour Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras
Veronica English
Head of Medical Ethics at the British Medical Association
Natalie Gamble
Solicitor at Natalie Gamble Associates, mother of donor-conceived children and egg donor
Alison Murdoch
Head of the Fertility Centre at the Newcastle Centre for Life and Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University's Institute of Genetic Medicine
Paul Whitbourn
Head of the Arm's-Length Bodies Transition Programme at the UK Government's Department of Health

Chair:
Peter Braude
Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King's College London

Partners and supporters:
Anne McLaren Memorial Fund