- More than half of women starting fertility treatment want a more aggressive pace of treatment, risking physical and mental health
- 60 percent feel time is running out to get pregnant due to pandemic
- SAFE campaign warns that women are at risk from clinics offering direct payment models that incentivise profit over health
Fertility patients who fear their time is running short are opting for speed over safety when it comes to their IVF cycles, and could be allowed to do so by some clinics where payment models incentivise corner-cutting.
The study conducted by Opinium Research found that three in five women in the early stages of their fertility treatment plan to resort to more aggressive treatment (57%), with the majority (52%) open to ‘over-medication’, even though this can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) causing blood clots, kidney failure and pregnancy loss.1
After a year of delays caused by the pandemic, six in 10 (59%) feel that time is running out, meaning that many (72%) are planning to speed up their treatment. Three in 10 (30%) are willing to push their physical and mental health ‘to the limit’ if it helps their chances of getting pregnant.
But pressure to get pregnant can have real consequences for physical and mental health. More than one in five women who’ve been through fertility treatment (22%) admit they made themselves unwell with what they put their body through, with seven in 10 even reporting potential symptoms of PTSD including irritability, insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares, among other symptoms.2
The study showed that clinicians are vital in preventing patients going too far. One in three women (37%) admit they were dissuaded from taking health risks by their doctor.
But a campaign to safeguard women’s health in the fertility industry is warning that patients may no longer be able to rely on their clinics to put their health before profits, after a major clinic group started offering multi-cycle or refund programmes directly to patients for the first time.
Previously these programmes have only been provided by independent third parties to ensure that financial considerations don’t play a part in medical decisions. But campaigners are concerned that the move means these clinics will now be incentivised to cut-corners, over-medicate and ultimately threaten the health of their patients.
With regulation in the sector over 30 years old, the SAFE campaign is urging women to consider their options and not to rush into decisions, while regulators consider whether to ban the practice altogether.
Alpesh Doshi Consultant Embryologist/ Clinic Director at IVF London said: “The pandemic has led to a surge of IVF Cycles being carried out within most fertility clinics. Whilst the NHS clinics redefine their resources to start offering IVF, private clinics have seen a steady rise in the number of fertility treatments. It would be debatable whether IVF clinics have put commercial benefits before the health and well-being of their patients. Patients should always be able to make informed choices and decisions based on the advice given by their consultants.”
“IVF carries its own layer of risks which should not be ignored or taken lightly and clinics should ensure that their patients are well informed of these risks. It is important that clinics are transparent about costs with their patients. This avenue will be further regulated when the CMA (Competition and Marketing Authority) sets out its consumer law guidance on fair pricing of fertility treatments in Spring 2021. Fertility Clinics and third-party finance companies will be subject to adherence when these guidelines are published.”
Clinics providing payment programmes directly: why is this dangerous?
Clinics offering their own refund programmes are financially incentivised to try to ensure a live birth by any means necessary, to avoid having to pay back the money. This puts doctors in a difficult position as they may come under pressure from employers to avoid a refund. This could lead to aggressive treatment, overmedication leading to OHSS or multiple births, all of which are dangerous to mother and baby.
Clinics providing their own multi-cycle programmes are financially incentivised to cut corners, having already received the patient’s money, and with no refund agreement in place if treatment is unsuccessful.
Another risk is that the clinic will act aggressively to try to get an outcome on the first cycle, in order to avoid subsequent cycles and maximise profits. This has risks including overmedication leading to OHSS and multiple births, both of which are dangerous to mother and baby.
Providing payment programmes through independent third parties is a safety net for both clinics and patients. This model means that clinics never lose out financially and patients benefit from medical decisions made with only their health in mind.