Crackdown on IVF clinics that rip off patients
4th November 2020

Crackdown on IVF clinics that rip off patients: Watchdog releases tough new guidance on ‘unrealistically low headline prices’ at fertility clinics

  • The CMA said clinics should should give women realistic success rates 
  • It warns clinics must give their prices upfront to allow people to shop around 
  • Its draft guidance states clinics must avoid ‘misleading omissions’  

Fertility clinics will face tough guidelines following concerns about the mis-selling of IVF treatments.

The competition watchdog has published draft guidance which cracks down on clinics potentially advertising ‘unrealistically low headline prices’.

Many of those who seek IVF after months or years of unsuccessfully trying for a baby are vulnerable, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned.

It said clinics – whose prices can exceed £20,000 for IVF – should clearly state the evidence behind the ‘add-on’ treatments they sell.  

And they should give women realistic success rates, according to the guidance which has been put out for consultation until January.

CMA said clinics should clearly state the evidence behind the ‘add-on’ treatments they sell

It warns clinics must give their prices upfront to allow people to shop around and cannot make unsubstantiated claims, such as they have the ‘best success rates’. 

The regulator will also review whether clinics have broken any laws, which could see it take firms to court and seek financial compensation for wronged couples.

Sarah Norcross of fertility charity Progress Educational Trust (PET) said: ‘It is a crying shame that fertility treatment is an area of medicine where patients are often treated like consumers and are therefore in need of protection.

‘For years PET has been calling for action on some of the issues the CMA is trying to tackle, such as advertising unrealistically low headline prices, presenting a treatment as medically necessary when it is not, claiming success rates are better than they are and not being clear about add-on treatments.’

As couples struggle to get NHS funding, almost two-thirds of attempts to conceive are paid for privately. The UK fertility sector is worth around £320million a year.

In February, the competition watchdog announced that it was looking into the industry over concerns of possible ‘mis-selling of services’ and misleading claims about success rates.

False information should not be given, according to the guidelines, such as claims about the effectiveness of egg-freezing

Its draft guidance states clinics must avoid ‘misleading omissions’ in the information they provide, such as when a clinic ‘advertises unrealistically low headline prices to appear very attractive to potential patients – with essential elements of treatment and costs only revealed later in the process’.

The regulator says it has been told about people facing extra unexpected costs so patients should be given a full and clear costed treatment plan.

False information should not be given, according to the guidelines, such as claims about the effectiveness of egg-freezing. 

If people are given too many tests, recommended dietary supplements or referred to a nutritionist when there is no evidence this may help, that too may fall foul of the rules.

Following the nine-week consultation, a final version of the guidance will be published in March.

Gwenda Burns of Fertility Network UK said the guidance ‘will help offer greater protection for patients and ensure costs are transparent from the outset’.

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