There are some things in life that we tend to take for granted, and I think the HFEA is one of those things for many fertility patients in the UK. It’s easy to forget, or to be unaware, of all that the HFEA does to help us.
When the government decided to get rid of the HFEA as part of its war on quangos, the idea was that much of the work of the authority could be done just as well in other places. There were many arguments against this, but what was most worrying to me was that one of the key functions of the HFEA from the patient perspective seemed to be completely overlooked. There were endless debates about whether the HFEA was asking clinics for too much unnecessary paperwork, about whether research decisions would be better made elsewhere and about how regulation would work, but the importance to patients of the HFEA’s role as an information provider was largely ignored.
It’s not just the annual success rates, published for each individual clinic, which are helpful to patients but the HFEA’s measured views on a range of topics. When there’s an IVF scare story in the news, it’s the HFEA’s view which patients know they can trust to tell the truth behind the headlines.
Aside from this, the regulation of fertility clinics is something patients in the UK can take for granted. The systems may not be perfect, but the monitoring of processes and staff means that we have safety nets in place which simply don’t exist in many other parts of the world. The knowledge built up within the HFEA over many years in this area should not be underestimated.
It’s great that the government has seen sense and realised that getting rid of a body with such a wealth of expertise would not be sensible – although it would be interesting to know how much money has been spent arriving at this conclusion!
There will still be a review of the HFEA and the way that it works, particularly in relation to another body, the Human Tissue Authority. Interestingly, merging these two bodies was another potentially money-saving proposal considered five years or so ago which was dismissed out of hand after consultation.
Let’s hope not too much time or cash is spent reviewing what has already been reviewed and that it is possible to use this process to come up with some sensible views about things that can be improved whilst retaining all that is good about the HFEA.