Fertility watchdog seeks to reduce IVF risks

The UK regulator for fertility treatment, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is looking to review the number of embryos transferred during fertility treatment.

The review will determine whether the UK will reduce the number of embryos transferred back to women following IVF from two or three to one.

HFEA Chief Executive Angela McNab, said: “We know that the biggest risk from fertility treatment is caused by multiple births – having twins or triplets – and this is a risk both to the mother and to the children born.

“Multiple births are more likely to be premature and the babies below normal birth weight. This can have profound implications for the children’s health and development in the years to come.”

Ms McNab also said that twins or triplets were also more likely to die around the time of birth and suffer from cerebral palsy, and there could also be other complications during pregnancy.

Families could also suffer from increased physical and emotional strain from coping with multiple births, Mc McNab said, and they also placed a “substantial strain” on the NHS, with the cost of care for a set of triplets during their first year, costing ten times as much as a single child.

Ms McNab said: “Women are designed to have healthy babies, one at a time, and with natural conception this is what usually happens. The HFEA wants to see the results of fertility treatment come closer to what occurs naturally.”

Restrictions have already been placed on embryo transfers by the HFEA. In January 2004 the HFEA introduced a policy that clinics may only transfer a maximum of two embryos to women under 40 and a maximum of three embryos in women 40 and over.

Ms McNab said: “We have seen a lot of research come through recently from Europe, particularly northern European countries where there is substantial state funding of single embryo transfer.

“But we know we have a different model of provision for fertility treatment in the UK and we need to ensure that any changes for the future would suit what is going on in this country.

“We would not want to see any changes that would have a negative impact on the current fertility services in the UK or on the treatment of our patients. Our aim is to build a consensus across the fertility sector, Primary Care Trusts and other commissioners of services to build a model which acts in the best interests of patients.”

The HFEA, in association with individual clinicians and the sector’s professional bodies, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Fertility Society and the Association of Clinical Embryologists, hopes to begin work on the project in the early autumn.


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