MORE and more families are seeking fertility treatment abroad to avoid being stung by the ‘hidden costs’ associated with UK care, according to leading experts.
In recent months the NHS has made sweeping cuts to its free in vitro fertilisation (IVF) provision.
Clinical Commissioning Groups across the UK have either reduced the number of ‘cycles’ of treatment made available to patients, or pulled IVF completely.
That has prompted hundreds of British families to seek fertility care overseas, where it’s often cheaper than at a private clinic in the UK or Ireland.
And now a growing number of patients are also avoiding UK clinics because they don’t want to be hit with a barrage of ‘extra’ costs for additional ‘interventions’ like embryo glue, assisted hatching and genetic screening.
Leading charity the Fertility Network UK and online hub Fertility Clinics Abroad have called for ‘greater clarity over hidden costs’ while saying it’s a ‘challenge the industry has been slow to tackle’.
One such foreign treatment centre also highlighting the issue is IVF Cube, in Prague, Czech Republic.
They’ve seen a 65 per cent increase in patients arriving from the UK and Ireland since 2012.
The clinic’s medical director Hana Visnova, a world-leading expert in assisted reproduction, says that it’s not just price that’s important to patients, but knowing in advance precisely what they’ve signed up for.
She explains: “Infertility treatment here in the Czech Republic can cost less than 40 per cent of the average British or Irish price, while maintaining the same high standards.
“But it’s not just about the overall cost - it’s about us being upfront and transparent about that cost. It’s about honesty and trust.
“Unlike many other UK clinics - and other Czech clinics, too - we have a package price for treatment. And that’s it.
“At clinics in the UK you’ll pay for the IVF cycle, but then you’ll also have to pay £100 for the ultrasound, £100 for blood sampling, and lots of other additional extras.
“Once these have been factored in, the actual cost of the treatment can be twice that which the patient was originally quoted.
“We avoid these additional charges where we can - it’s all agreed in advance as part of the package price.
“The cost remains the same regardless of whether the man has a poor sperm sample or a good sperm sample, or if the woman has one embryo or eight embryos.
“And I think this fixed price is really appealing for many UK and Irish patients. It’s one of the reasons, I feel, that more and more people are coming to places like our clinic.
“In 2012 we’d typically treat around 180 patients form the UK and Ireland. That figure is now around 280. It’s a substantial increase.”
The Fertility Network UK and Fertility Clinics Abroad recently published their own investigation into the reasons why patients head overseas for treatment, with the most popular destinations being Spain, Greece, Czech Republic, France, Denmark and the USA.
In a paper called ‘Understanding the drivers behind fertility tourism in the UK’, they say: “It is without doubt the inconsistent coverage of NHS funded fertility treatment - often dictated by postcode - and the high cost of private fertility treatment, that represent the main drivers behind UK fertility tourism.
“When asked to share their views on the key problems with fertility treatment in the UK, 76% of respondents felt private fertility treatment was very expensive with nearly 80% believing it is at best over twice as expensive as they are willing or able to pay.
“According to the survey, IVF using your own eggs was the most sought after treatment and people were willing to pay between £1000 and £5000 for the treatment.
“In the UK, IVF can often exceed £10K when additional expenses are taken into account. Greater clarity over ‘hidden costs’ is a challenge the industry has been slow to tackle.”
Meanwhile Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network UK predicts that foreign fertility tourism is only going to increase while NHS cuts continue.
She added: “It is clear from Fertility Network UK’s survey with Fertility Clinics Abroad that patients’ inability to access NHS IVF because of substantial cuts to NHS fertility services, coupled with the high cost of private fertility treatment in the UK, are the key drivers for seeking assisted conception abroad.
“If neither of these factors change, fertility tourism is likely to increase in popularity.
“Going overseas can be the right option for many: low costs and the fact that you can leave home for a short break, relax in a different environment and not have to juggle clinic appointments with work commitments is a big benefit.”
Speaking earlier this year, Sarah Norcross, co-chair of Fertility Fairness and director of the Progress Educational Trust, added: “Fertility clinics are dealing with patients at an emotive time and when you’re about to spend £5,000 on standard IVF, it’s tempting to spend an extra £500 on something that may just help.
"Fertility patients, many only used to the NHS, suddenly find themselves faced with a doctor wearing two hats – the medical hat and the businessman hat, which adds another element to the doctor/patient relationship.”
At IVF Cube one cycle of IVF with a patients eggs is €2,900. If using donated eggs, the cost rises to around €5,900 in Prague.
The average age of women treated at the centre is roughly 37/38 years old - Dr Visnova says that two years ago that figure was around 34/35 years old, highlighting how those seeking treatment are becoming increasing in age.
Meanwhile another key factor in the appeal of foreign clinics is the availability of donor eggs.
In the UK and Ireland there’s a crippling shortage of donors - either because of a lack of altruistic donors or because of the ‘right to know’ law, introduced in 2005, which decreed that all children conceived through donations can apply for the name, date of birth, and last known address of the donor as soon as they turn 18.
Those rules don’t apply in Czech Republic and IVF Cube have zero waiting times for donor eggs. In the UK, the wait for a donor can take years, not just months.
Dr Visnova adds: “It’s an efficient and safe system. Use of donor eggs and sperm in Prague is tightly controlled by EU laws and donors are screened for health and genetic issues. In our centre, we also test all the donors for drugs and all of them have to undergo consultation with a psychologist. We actually filter most of the donors who contact us, as we only accept around 25% of the possible donors.
“Both the donor and recipient remain anonymous at all time.”
"At clinics in the UK youll pay for the IVF cycle, but then youll also have to pay 100 for the ultrasound, 100 for blood sampling, and lots of other additional extras."
Dr Hana Visnova
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