IVF clinics in London are "cashing in" by overcharging patients who want to store frozen embryos, according to a top fertility doctor.
Clinics are advised to use one embryo at a time to reduce the health risks connected to multiple births, but couples desperate to conceive often choose to freeze embryos for future use. Lord Robert Winston, the fertility treatment pioneer, said that some clinics were taking advantage of these "one at a time" regulations. He revealed that one clinic charged £915 for embryo freezing plus £325 for storage in liquid nitrogen which "costs a few pence a litre".
Speaking in a debate in Parliament on the future of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Professor Winston said:
"Embryo freezing will be increasingly required if we are to limit the number of pregnancies that result in multiple births by transferring just one embryo each time." The Labour peer added: "One of the key issues which the HFEA has not dealt with is the high cost of IVF treatment. In my view, it is a scandal.
"There are clinics that treat patients for around £3,400 a cycle. It is only when you look at their websites that you see that they are charging up to £1,100 to £3,200 for drugs that should be obtained on contracts at around £500 to £700 per cycle." Lord Winston said IVF was a "highly privileged treatment" because "hard-pressed" NHS trusts cannot afford to offer the three free cycles of IVF recommended.
Many clinics only offer single embryo transfers since the new HFEA issued advice on limiting multiple births three years ago. Figures published last week reveal multiple pregnancies fell to 22 per cent last year from 26.7 per cent in 2008. Lord Winston also said that some clinics are offering treatments which are not backed by scientific evidence. These include immune therapy which costs up to £3,000 and is based on the belief that a woman's immune system may reject a pregnancy and lead to miscarriage.
The Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in Wimpole Street is one clinic which offers these tests. It is run by Mohammed Taranissi who argues such testing can help women become pregnant. But Professor Winston said: "Where is the evidence that immune therapy actually improves the success rate of pregnancies? I do not know of that evidence and, indeed, the treatment may even be damaging or harmful to the patient's residual immune system."
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