Many claims made by UK fertility clinics about the benefits of treatments beyond standard IVF procedures are not backed up by evidence, finds a study published in BMJ Open. These can range from £50 for a single screening blood test to as much as £8000 for egg freezing packages.
The researchers, led by Professor Carl Heneghan from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences say: “There is a need for more information on interventions to be made available by fertility centres, to support well informed treatment decisions.”
The findings were presented this week as part of a Panorama undercover investigation, broadcast on BBC One.
The researchers examined fertility centre websites for claims of benefit relating to fertility interventions. In a linked analysis published by the BMJ, the researchers also searched for evidence to support the 38 interventions offered by UK fertility centres on top of standard IVF, focusing on the key outcome of live birth rates.
Panorama commissioned the CEBM to do the research, which has taken almost a year to complete.
In the programme, the researchers describe the lack of good scientific evidence from trials to support 26 out of the 27 so-called “add-on” treatments offered by UK fertility clinics. These treatments include things like additional procedures, additional drugs or devices to house an embryo.
Only one treatment – called endometrial scratch – had even moderate quality evidence that shows an increase in the chances of having a baby with standard fertility care like IVF.
Professor Heneghan told Panorama:
"It was one of the worst examples I've ever seen in healthcare. The first thing you would expect to happen is that anything that makes a claim for an intervention would be backed up by some evidence. Some of these treatments are of no benefit to you whatsoever and some of them are harmful."
In their BMJ paper, the researchers say there is “an urgent need for randomised controlled trials and for many interventions that are currently being offered” and call for changes in guidance to help couples make informed decisions.
Catch up with the programme “Panorama: Inside Britian’s Fertility Business” on BBC iPlayer
Claims for fertility interventions: a systematic assessment of statements on UK fertility centre websites BMJ Open
Analysis: Lack of evidence for interventions offered in UK fertility centres. The BMJ.