The Real Cost of Infertility

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This week, at the fourth and final session of the Progress Educational Trust’s annual conference Professor Lord Robert Winston did not shy away from controversial infertility topics. His talk looked at infertility’s true costs – to society, to families and to women.

He talked about the infertility experience – how it affects individuals and couples, not only medically and physically, but emotionally and in terms of relationships.

Infertility, he said, is misunderstood by the health service – it is seen as a disease that needs treatment. Doctors in other specialties view the infertility procedure as bizarre – no-one reaches straight for coronary surgery when there’s a pain in the chest, he said, as that can be caused by many things. However, when someone can’t have children, the treatment is IVF. Most of the time, he says, there is no serious attempt to make a clear diagnosis of the problem – and this can leave patients ’empty-handed’, both in terms of their finances and their chance of having a child. In what he called a ‘chronic problem’, one of the worst aspects of the health service, which he views as ‘incredibly badly run, for a long time’ is the ‘maternity market’.

He also estimated that IVF cycles could be provided for less than £1,000: ‘IVF should not cost the kind of money that is currently being spent’. Where are the regulators in all this, he asked? He went on to describe it as a ‘bleak picture of poor diagnosis, misdiagnosis and selling of uncharted treatment’.

When asked about clinics in the UK who have partnerships with clinics overseas Lord Winston said it can’t be regulated and neither can other treatments which patients go overseas to get because they are not legal here. He mentioned the Fertility Show, held in November in London, where stands advertised things such as sex selection, not available here. He also pointed out that overseas clinics can advertise on the London Underground things that if they were UK practitioners would be illegal and have them struck off the medical register. These ‘loopholes’ are dangerous, he said, and he believes the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority should intervene.

None of this is new but it shows that the world of infertility is not well regulated and the true cost on patients is immeasurable. What do you think?

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