The cost of private fertility treatment

New research has found huge discrepancies in the prices people are charged for IVF and for many extras such as blood tests or drugs as reported here in the Times. It can be difficult if you need treatment as you don’t always feel you have time to shop around – but this shows that it is at least worth making a few calls to see whether anywhere closer to you may offer treatment at a lower price. If you do this though, you do need to make sure that the price isn’t lower because not everything is included in the cost you are being given  or because the treatment is not the same. It is also important to be aware that the headline costs on clinic websites often have little to do with the real costs that you will end up paying as a patient.

It’s not just the treatment itself where costs can differ but also the prices paid for any additional treatments which some patients are now considering. When I was looked into this, I was surprised at how big the differences were in the charges for add ons. For example, some clinics were including embryo glue in the cost of an IVF cycle whilst others were charging for it and the costs ranged from £75 to £350. It was a similar picture with endometrial scratch, which you might be able to get free at some clinics across the country by taking part in a clinical trial or which could cost you up to £450. I looked at a small sample of clinics and even in those, found these wide price discrepancies but it does show that it is worth at the very least asking why your clinic is charging what it does if it is much more than others.

Finally, don’t forget that the cost is one part of the equation. If you are having to travel a long distance to the clinic – or if it is overseas – this in itself adds costs both financial and in terms of stress. You will also want to check out the clinic details on the HFEA website to see the latest outcomes from treatment and to see how it is ranked by inspectors and other patients. There is a section in the patient ratings about cost which is particularly relevant as it shows whether people ended up paying more than they expected for treatment at that particular clinic so make sure you have at least considered these things before committing yourself.

Hype, hope and headlines

Last night I went to a fascinating discussion organised by Progress Educational Trust and the Science Journalism Department at City University looking at the way that new developments in fertility treatment are reported in the press. The debate was initially sparked by a letter to The Times written by fertility specialists Professor Nick Macklon and Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya about the reporting of fertility-related stories in the media and the impact these can have on patients. The regular bombardment of stories of advances in fertility treatment that are allegedly going to improve success rates and transform the future can make it difficult for patients to separate hype from reality.

The discussion started with a ten-minute presentation by each of the three speakers for the evening, beginning with Simon Fishel who is managing director of CARE and who had come in for some criticism for hailing an unproven new approach as a “the most exciting breakthrough we’ve had in probably thirty years”.  Fishel made the point that any new advance would always be unproven at first and suggested that a baby was “all the proof that is needed”. He explained that waiting to have the gold standard of evidence would simply take too long for most fertility patients who needed help right away, not many years down the line.

Fishel was followed by Professor Nick Macklon from Southampton who painted a picture of the couple who had just been through unsuccessful treatment and who were facing a crisis, but were then presented with hope by a newspaper article claiming that a new breakthrough treatment could offer success when in reality this was completely unproven. He said that patients were paying the price and that journalism needed to be more discerning.

The final speaker was Dr Hannah Devlin, Science Editor at The Times, who began by explaining why human interest fertility stories had all the ingredients to “set the heart of the news editor racing”. She discussed why it was important to report on developments as they emerged, which might be well before there was the gold standard level of evidence, but admitted that ‘breakthrough’ was a word she tried to avoid. She said that the time pressures of a daily paper could make it difficult for journalists, and that sometimes the mere fact that everyone else was covering a story made it news in itself.

During the question and answer session that followed, much of the discussion focused on the idea of responsibility – the responsibility of the scientist, of the press officer, of the journalist and of the clinician. A question from Stuart Lavery of IVF Hammersmith made the point that with so much of IVF carried out in the private sector, there was often a marketing element to stories of new fertility advances.

From the patient perspective, the evening raised many issues. Yes, of course we want to be informed about any new advances, but we need news stories about these to be balanced and fair. We need them to cut through the hype and to present us with a realistic idea of how helpful this would be to us as patients today. In an industry where everyone seems happy to keep taking our money as long as there is any sliver of a chance of success, honesty has never been more important.