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There’s no quick fix for fertility problems says HFEA Chair

There’s no quick fix for fertility problems, but ‘fertility drips’ are just part of a wider problem writes our Chair Sally Cheshire

For many people having a family of their own is one of life’s biggest achievements, but for others this is not always straightforward.

Couples who are struggling to conceive are often desperate and will try anything they think can help them have their much longed-for baby, making them vulnerable to myths and unproven treatments.

From acupuncture to bee pollen, there are many supplements and treatments that claim to work but are simply not supported by evidence. Just this week a company offering an IV drip claiming to boost fertility has come under fire for offering false hope.

The drips were available at Westfield shopping centre and priced at £250 they were a costly ‘extra’ with no evidence that they work. Experts like Raj Mathur, a consultant gynaecologist at St Mary’s hospital in Manchester, commented that “the ingredients listed in the drip are all available in a balanced diet”, while The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that the drips could be “causing real damage to women's emotional wellbeing.”

In response, Get A Drip decided to withdraw their so called ‘fertility drips’.

So far so good, but the sad truth is that the ‘fertility drip’ is just one more item on the list of myths that claim to increase or support fertility, targeting individuals who are often already going through emotional turmoil in their quest to conceive.

As the UK regulator for fertility treatment we’re working hard to create a culture change on such optional fertility extras, or so-called ‘treatment add-ons’, most of which are outside of our regulatory remit.

We know that many patients going through fertility treatment are confused and overwhelmed by much of the information they read, especially on treatment add-ons. They want to know whether the treatments are safe and effective, and if the additional costs are worth it. That is why we’ve been working with professional groups such as the British Fertility Society and others, to provide guidance to fertility clinics on how unproven treatments should be ethically introduced, which is a vital step towards a more transparent approach in fertility services.

The problem is a growing one. Our patient survey showed that of those that had fertility treatment in the last two years, three quarters (74%) had at least one type of treatment add-on.

And while treatment add-ons are often being offered to patients by clinics, we also know that many patients enter the clinic asking for add-ons having heard about them online or from friends.

This is why it’s crucial that clinics are transparent about the add-on treatments they offer, including the potential costs, so that patients know whether they are likely to increase their chance of having a baby.

Our revised guidelines require clinics to provide clear information about treatment add-ons to all patients, setting out the evidence and effectiveness. We’ve also published information on the most commonly offered add-ons, with a traffic light rating system, to help patients better understand the effectiveness of treatments they might consider.

But we won’t stop there. We’ll continue to work with colleagues, experts and patients to create change that ensures patients have the right information at the right time to help them make informed decisions on their treatment.

Trying to conceive can be hard and it’s easy to see why even the slightest promise of upping your chances can lead people to try out new treatments. But the last thing patients need are bogus claims on improving fertility or successful pregnancy, that will only lead to disappointment and financial strain.

It’s important that treatments are done by a medical professional in a regulated fertility clinic. There is no place for quick fix fertility issues on our high streets.

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Publication date: 4 July 2019

Review date: 4 July 2021

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