Regulation of Assisted Reproduction in the UK
The publication of a letter to the Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) from a number of patients who have received treatment at a particular clinic in London, currently under scrutiny by the HFEA, articulates concerns that the regulatory process has failed to serve their best interests.
While the BFS cannot comment on the specific issues under investigation at the clinic concerned, the Society would wish to express its absolute support for the concept of regulation in the IVF sector. Regulation serves many functions, not least the protection of patients embarking on ethically complex treatment. It provides reassurance to society that developments in a fast moving and controversial area of medical practice are monitored closely and that research involving human embryos is conducted within the rules laid down by parliament. This regulatory framework, as administered successfully by the HFEA for the last 17 years, has been of enormous reassurance to the public and to those scientists and clinicians working in what is often perceived as one of the most controversial areas of medical practice.
There are currently over 80 IVF centres in the UK licensed by the HFEA. The vast majority of these clinics have worked effectively for many years within this framework providing the highest quality of care for patients. The BFS has and will continue to engage with the HFEA in debating matters of importance for patients and researchers in assisted reproduction and shares with the Authority the common aspiration to address the needs of the one in seven couples in the UK who face infertility problems.
If the Authority has concerns about the conduct of a clinic or a member of clinic staff, then it is absolutely appropriate that investigation should take place following its due processes. Regulatory problems relating to the practice of a single clinic should not, in the view of the BFS, lead us to lose sight of the fact that the HFEA enjoys the support and trust of the vast majority of practitioners in the fertility sector.