If you’re having treatment at a fertility clinic, you may be interested in a new report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which looks at the number of incidents or mistakes that happen in the UK’s fertility clinics. It may sound alarming, but sometimes things don’t go exactly to plan and encouraging clinics to report to the HFEA when this happens can help them to prevent problems occurring in the future and to share experiences so that others can learn from what has happened too.
The new report shows that the number of incidents at fertility clinics is going down, and that they occur in less than one percent of treatment cycles. However, that does mean a total of 465 occasions when something went wrong, and it can be distressing if this happens to you. Only two of these were in the most serious grade A category, and the largest group were in category C, the lowest grade, which might sometimes mean an administrative error, for example a patient being sent a letter meant for someone else.
The HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire urged clinics to use the practical help available from the HFEA to that we can offer to do more to improve patient care: “Whilst every incident that takes place is one too many, I particularly want clinics to concentrate on reducing their grade B and C incidents. Such mistakes are often distressing to patients, largely avoidable and frankly shouldn’t happen. The small reduction in incidents is a step in the right direction but more can and must be done by clinics, and we can help. Since our last report, we have worked with clinics to improve their systems and practices. For example, where clinics are struggling to recognise what changes need to be made to avoid future incidents, our clinical governance team offers bespoke incident training to individual centres. It is for clinics now to step up and make the necessary changes so that everyone affected by assisted reproduction receives the best possible care. I want to see these improvements realised by the time of our next annual report.”
You can download the report itself here
We often hear about the risks associated with fertility treatment, but a huge new study from the United States which looked at more than a million cycles of treatment over a period of more than ten years has concluded that the risk of complications is low.
As one might expect, the most common problem resulting from fertility treatment is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, but this only occurred in one or two women in every hundred treated. Many women who develop OHSS, which results from overstimulation of the ovaries, experience relatively mild symptoms such as bloating and nausea, but the condition can be extremely dangerous and severe symptoms will need hospital treatment.
The research team, led by Dr Jennifer Kawwass from Emory University School of Medicine, found that the risk of any other complications from assisted conception was very low. You can read more here
You may have read reports about “safer” IVF in the last few days, focused on a study which used a naturally occurring hormone called kisspeptin to mature eggs during IVF treatment. The idea behind this was to try to reduce the chances of ovarian hyperstimulation – a condition which can be caused by fertility treatment. Although the majority women who experience hyperstimulation have fairly mild symptoms, it can be severe and even life-threatening, so being able to cut the risk of hyperstimulation during treatment would be a good thing.
I was really pleased to see that the brilliant NHS Choices has covered this story – if you aren’t familiar with the health news section of the website, it looks behind the headlines and tells you the truth behind the sometimes hyped headlines. In this case, most of the coverage seems to have been fairly accurate – but NHS Choices does point out some important flaws in the research. Although it does show that kisspeptin has the capacity to mature eggs, only 53 women were involved in the trial and just 12 babies were born – so ar more research would be needed to prove that using it cut the risk of hyperstimulation. NHS Choices also explains that there was no control group in the study – so there was no comparison with a similar group of women going through standard IVF. What’s also important is the fact that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), who are most at risk of hyperstimulation, were not included in the group – there will now be a further trial focusing on women who have PCOS.
You can read more about the research, and see a really good video which explains the study made by the team from Imperial College who carried out the work here