Are couples being conned into IVF fertility treatment?


Are couples being conned into IVF fertility treatment?

Fertility pioneer ROBERT WINSTON delivers a devastating attack that will send shockwaves through the health service

Professor Robert Winston has worked in fertility for 40 years
• Says many couples are being exploited by a grasping, unethical industry
• He believes that the government and NHS are not doing enough to help

Babies are noisy, deprive you of sleep, destroy free time and are extremely expensive. Yet we feel like melting when we see them: their wide, gummy smiles, the adorable way they curl their tiny fingers around your thumb. This is not rational - it's in our genes. The urge to reproduce is burnt into human consciousness. It is innate, instinctual, essentially programmed through evolution.

But what if you are infertile? I have spent nearly 40 years talking and listening to people devastated by their lack of offspring, believing they are not 'proper' women or not 'proper' men. We have made considerable strides in fertility treatment. But the sad fact is that more and more infertile couples are being exploited by an increasingly grasping industry that frequently ignores ethical standards. And neither the Government nor the NHS are doing nearly enough to help.

It is not only some doctors who are responsible. Many commercial practices, run by people who have little or no professional training, are offering homespun treatments that simply do not work.

As a doctor who has been so closely involved with fertility treatment, I deeply regret that in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has become so commercial. I had thought practitioners would be sensitive enough to realise that they were dealing with people at their most fragile.

Such is my anger that I felt compelled to write a book. It will no doubt be very unpopular with some of my colleagues because it is critical of so much medical practice. But my aim is purely to help people to ask their doctors the right questions and to understand the treatment they are offered.

I am proud that Britain led the way in pioneering IVF. But it has become immensely profitable - and the truth about its success rates is frequently hidden. Each IVF treatment is, on average, only successful in under one-third of cases. Of course, it can be repeated - at great cost, often with much anxiety. But people are led to believe that it is the only treatment available to them - and the most successful. This is utterly wrong.

There is excellent evidence that more than half of those referred to IVF could be treated as or more successfully by far cheaper alternatives. If you went to your doctor complaining of chest pain and were immediately referred for open-heart surgery without proper investigation you would think: 'What a dreadful doctor!' That pain might be due to indigestion, chest disease, a sore rib, or a viral infection.

But now the chances are that if you complain of infertility, you will be referred straight to an IVF clinic - where there may be no proper attempt at making a diagnosis.

To fail to find the cause of any symptom is bad, irresponsible medicine. Each cause of infertility - and there are many - may need a different course of action. IVF most frequently fails when the underlying cause is not first established.

The NHS is much to blame. So often, it does not take infertility seriously. The guidelines for treatment are laughable. As soon as possible, patients are shunted into the private sector.

Then there is the cost: unquestionably, IVF should not cost nearly as much as what is commonly charged - anywhere up to £5,000. Even NHS hospitals frequently make a profit that goes to support other services.

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