UK fertility clinics given thumbs-up

By Agnes Rose

Patients undergoing fertility treatment in UK-licensed clinics can continue to be reassured their care is safe and of a high quality, according to the sector’s independent regulator.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s (HFEA) State of the Fertility Sector 2022-23 report reveals that of nearly 100,000 treatment and storage cycles, over 99% had no incidents.

The annual report summarises HFEA compliance work for 2022-23, as well as information recorded in incident reports, on its register of fertility treatments and through patient feedback mechanisms.

HFEA chief executive Peter Thompson said: ‘Following each clinic inspection, a report identifying areas of good practice and those which require improvement is published on the HFEA website. 

‘We monitor incidents in clinics to make sure that everything is done to understand what went wrong and, crucially, to take steps to ensure it does not happen again. We also share learning and notify other clinics of potential issues.’

 

The report found:

Inspections decreased compared to previous years from 105 in 2021-22 to 85 in 2022-23. There were more inspections due to deferrals during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The HFEA worked with clinics to ensure they do everything possible to prevent and manage ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). In 2022-23, there were 64 cases of severe OHSS reported by UK clinics, occurring in less than 0.1% of cycles.

There were 517 incidents and 89 near misses reported to the HFEA, mostly Grade C (291), followed by Grade B (226 incidents). Both Grade B and C incidents decreased, consistent from previous years. There were no Grade A incidents from 2020-21 to 2022-23.

Incidents graded as A involve severe harm to one person or major harm to many; B involves serious harm to one person or moderate harm to many; C involves minor harm; Near miss is an event with the potential to cause injury or ill health.

The number of patient complaints decreased from 76 in 2021-22 to 59.

Of the 107 licensed treatment clinics, 66 (62%) were privately owned, an increase from 62 in 2021-22. Most HFEA-licensed clinics, whether private or NHS, treat both NHS and self-funded patients.

Dr Catherine Hill, interim chief executive of Fertility Network UK, believes the report’s results will be a huge reassurance to fertility patients. But she added: ‘We would like to particularly urge clinics to make a concerted effort to reduce the number of patients affected by OHSS, as we see that the number of women affected by the condition has not dropped demonstrably in recent years.’ 

The HFEA aims to ensure everyone receives high-quality care in UK fertility clinics by licensing, monitoring and inspecting them. It takes enforcement action where necessary and gives ‘free, clear and impartial information about fertility treatment, clinics and egg, sperm and embryo donation’.