IVF pioneer claims that patients are ‘exploited’

An IVF pioneer has accused fertility clinics of exploitation and of charging patients three times the actual cost of their treatment.

Lord Robert Winston said some of the charges – by both private practitioners and the NHS – were a “scandal”.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in England and Wales recommends that eligible women aged from 23 to 39 be offered three cycles of treatment on the NHS.

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For those who pay for it, the average basic cost of treatment is believed to be £2,500 in clinics run by the NHS and £3,500 in private clinics, plus the price of drugs and tests which can double the bill.

Lord Winston, who is a Labour peer and former head of the NHS IVF clinic at Hammersmith Hospital in London, said: “My view is that both NHS and private clinics are charging much more than the cost of delivering the treatment.”

Calculating the costs for a large unit treating 2,000 patients a year, he concluded the treatment could be delivered for £700 a cycle, which would reach £1,200 to £1,300 a cycle when overheads were included.

He branded the current fees “pure exploitation”, adding: “The NHS is basing its fees not on what it costs but on what it thinks the market will bear.” The market was being driven by both “avarice on the part of the clinics and desperation on the part of the women”, he added.

Simon Fishel, managing director of private IVF provider Care Fertility, said Lord Winston’s own private practice at the Royal Masonic Hospital in the 1990s “charged among the highest prices”.

In response, Lord Winston insisted that all money raised from his private work had gone to charity and to treating NHS patients.

In Scotland the role of NICE is split between the Scottish Medicines Consortium and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network .