Fertility patients hate making a fuss

Patient complaints-handling expert Sally Taber outlines what fertility doctors treating private patients should be aware of.

It has been acknowledged by the Competition and Markets Auth­ority (CMA) that fertility patients can be reluctant to complain. 

One reason applicable to many patients purchasing fertility treatment is that it tends to be a uniquely private experience.

They feel that there is no understood ‘norm’ in relation to how someone should be treated or what they reasonably expect from a clinic.

Let me draw your attention to the fact that the CMA issued guidance for fertility clinics as long ago as June 2021 and this sets out the competition watchdog’s views on how consumer law applies to clinics in the fertility sector.

It covers:

  • Information provision – what information clinics should provide to prospective patients and existing patients and when;
  • Commercial practices – what clinics should do to ensure that their commercial practices are fair, in particular to ensure that their commercial practices meet the objective standard of professional diligence;
  • Contract terms – what clinics should do to ensure that their terms are fair;
  • Complaints handling – what clinics should do to ensure that their complaints handling processes are accessible, clear and fair.

Contact me

As director of the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS), I would welcome contact from fertility units that hopefully may wish to follow the good practices advocated above. You can contact me at sally.taber@iscas.org.uk.

The CMA has also published a report setting out the findings from the latest patient research it commissioned which looks at how self-funding IVF patients choose between clinics and treatment options.   

This also includes a chapter on patients’ willingness to raise a concern or complaint with clinics, which is obviously of interest to us at the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service.

It has signposted ISCAS as one of the options the complaint can be escalated to. 

The others are the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the professional regulators such as the GMC. 

In a report in September 2022, the CMA made this recommendation to the HFEA:

‘We recommend the HFEA encourages all licensed clinics to join an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme, just as the Care Quality Comission does. We further recommend that the HFEA considers whether membership of an ADR scheme could be incorporated into their Code of Practice.’

More information about the CMA’s work, copies of the reports, a press notice and the open letter to the sector can be found from  the Government website at www.gov.uk/cma-cases/self-funded-ivf-consumer-law-guidance.