- Twenty-six out of the 27 add-on fertility treatments have no scientific evidence of increasing the chances of conception.
- Most of them do more harm than good. The expensive 'add-on' treatments offered by the UK fertility clinics, that claim to increase the chances of having a baby through in-virto fertilization (IVF), do not offer any benefits.
On the other hand, their chances of causing harm are greater.
‘Patients should have full access to information about a wider range of add-ons, so that they can make informed decisions.’
AdvertisementIVF clinics offer the additional treatments to boost the likelihood of having a baby.
The research on the 'add-on' treatments was commissioned by the B.B.C Panorama and conducted by Oxford University's Center for Evidence-Based Medicine.
The team spent a year researching 70 websites and studying every claim about the 'add-on' treatments and found around 27 such treatments.
They concluded that 26 out of the 27 extra treatments offered, have no scientific evidence from trials to prove that they improve the chances of having a baby.
The treatments include additional drugs, special devices used to house the embryo and, additional tests like genetic screening, blood tests to measure immune system, that can range anywhere from 100 to 3500 pounds.
"Some of these treatments are of no benefit to you whatsoever and some of them are harmful... I can't understand how this has been allowed to happen in the UK," Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, tells Panorama.
"The first thing you would expect to happen is that anything that makes a claim for an intervention would be backed up by some evidence,' says the academic, who led the research.
The findings are published in the medical journal The BMJ.
Only one of the 27 add-on treatments called, endometrial scratch, which includes a procedure to scratch the womb lining to help in successful implantation of the embryo, was supported by moderate quality evidence that it would prove useful.
Since evidence in support of this treatment is limited, randomized clinical trial is underway to determine its effectiveness.
Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, told Panorama "Provided we're not causing harm, I don't think that there's any problem with giving patients information... discussing that we don't know yet but there is an evidence base developing."
The Pre-implantation Genetic Screening
Pre-implantation genetic screening, screens embryos for abnormalities.
This screening might even stop the embryos them developing further.
When marketing this add-on, not all clinics divulged everything patients needed to know, to make informed decisions.
More accurate and improved versions of the screening are now offered in many clinics that can cost up to 3500 pounds.
But scientific evidence stating that these improved versions could increase the odds of getting pregnant are missing.
A Panorama reporter questioned staff from 18 British and foreign clinics at a fertility fair for the authenticity of PGS test.
Five of the 18 clinics, were positive about the treatment. Eight said they would offer it to women who were over 40 years of age and who had repeated IVF failures.
Only five clinics said that they would not recommend it because it lacked good evidence.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) is the regulatory body of the fertility clinics in UK.
A spokesman for the HFEA told that it was "concerned about the recent step change in the use of treatment add-ons".
Though the HEFA has limited power to stop clinics from offering the add-on treatments or to control pricing, it published information directly for patients so they could have the facts before they went to a clinic.
The authority said it plans to launch a new website next year where patients can have full access to information about a wider range of add-ons.
Panorama found many patients are still willing to pay for unproven treatments, even when their clinics tell them there is no high quality evidence behind them.