The competition watchdog is set to investigate IVF clinics for the first time following concerns over their behaviour.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is looking into Britain’s fertility industry, which is worth £320million, over concerns clinics are exaggerating success rates for IVF and mis-selling ‘add-on’ treatments.
Couples are being asked for their experiences, such as whether prices were clear and upfront and if they were given enough details about ‘add-ons’.
These extras, which include ‘glue’ or a painful ‘scratch’ to help an embryo stick to the wall of the womb, can cost up to £2,500 per IVF bid.
The CMA has stepped in after years of warnings about unscrupulous clinics, to make sure they ‘treat their patients fairly’ amid the stressful experience of trying for a child.
If private firms mislead couples, or behave unfairly, and continue to after being asked to desist, the regulator could take them to court to try to change their business practices.
Consumer law guidelines for the IVF sector will be drafted and released in July for consultation. The final guidelines will be published later in the year.
The Advertising Standards Authority is also looking at promises made by the IVF industry, and could serve them with a warning on their adverts.
In a statement, the CMA said: ‘The Competition and Markets Authority has concerns about possible cases of mis-selling of services such as IVF ‘add-on’ treatments, and possible misrepresentation of clinics’ success rates.’
It added: ‘Going through or exploring potential fertility treatments can be a stressful and emotional experience, with people having to make decisions in challenging circumstances. As such, it is important that clinics provide all the necessary information on treatments to allow patients to make informed choices.’
Evidence is being gathered on how transparent clinic prices are and whether their success rates, which let people know how likely they are to have a baby after IVF, are up to date.
Sarah Norcross, director of fertility charity the Progress Educational Trust, said: ‘This can only be good news for fertility patients, who typically have to make multiple decisions about very costly options while deeply distressed and vulnerable.’
The CMA is working with fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, whose chief executive last month said couples are being ‘misled’ and offered ‘false hope’ by fertility clinics.
Peter Thompson, head of the HFEA, said the average cost of one attempt at IVF is £5,000, but some couples can pay more than £20,000, with add-ons driving a rise in prices.
He told the Fertility 2020 conference in Edinburgh: ‘It seems to me that doing nothing would be wrong, first and most importantly because some patients are being misled, some patients are having unnecessary tests and treatments, and some of them are paying a lot of money for those tests and treatments, and that can’t be right.’
The HFEA wants doctors selling ‘add-on’ treatments to admit if they have a financial interest.
A spokesman said: ‘We welcome the work that the Competition and Markets authority is doing to develop guidance for IVF clinics in the UK.’