UK fertility safety for women is 'among the worst in Europe'

Mothers' health may be put at risk in the quest for high pregnancy rates at British IVF clinics, warn experts

The UK has one of the worst fertility treatment safety records in Europe, according to new figures published by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology.

The chances of developing serious complications are up to four times higher in the UK than in other countries carrying out similar numbers of fertility treatments. Experts warn that women's lives are being jeopardised in order to improve the numbers of successful pregnancies

Britain has the highest levels of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), the most serious and potentially fatal side-effect of IVF treatment, the figures show. At least two women with OHSS have died in the past three years, and there are fears of more cases going unrecorded.

Complications from IVF treatment from the use of drugs to stimulate the production of eggs can range from severe bloating and vomiting, to kidney failure, and even death in rare cases. Fertility experts say they fear many serious cases are not being recorded, because women go straight to casualty or end up in intensive care, the cause of their symptoms going unnoticed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Germany carried out in 2003 almost three times as many IVF cycles – implantations of fertilised embryos – as the UK, researchers found, but the UK had nearly three times more cases of OHSS. In 2004, France carried out nearly twice as many IVF cycles as Britain, but its OHSS rate was a quarter of that in UK clinics.

The figures have been compiled on the eve of a major international fertility conference, which opens in London on Thursday. It will debate how fertility treatments should be made safer, which would include the use of less intensive drug treatments.

Many European doctors believe the figures reflect the UK's emphasis on results – successful conceptions – over patient safety. They say the UK achieves average to above average pregnancy rates, but lags behind Europe when it comes to safety of women undergoing treatments.

Dr Karl Nygren, chairman of the International Committee on the Monitoring of Assisted Reproductive Technology, which monitors IVF treatments worldwide, said: "When it comes to measuring success of fertility treatments there are two measures: efficacy and safety.

"In the UK, you are good on efficacy – your success rates are in the top 10 countries – but your safety record is low."

Referring to the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown in Britain in 1978, he said: "You should be better – you are the ones who started it all off! In the UK, procedures are not being handled as optimally as they should be."

Dr Geeta Nargund, president of the International Society for Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction, said: "These OHSS figures raise alarm. In the UK, we are moving towards safer fertility treatment. Natural and mild IVF are aimed at preventing and reducing serious complications like OHSS.

"We have a duty to safeguard the health and safety of women undergoing fertility treatment. The HFEA takes into account the 'welfare of the child', but it should also implement strict clinical guidelines to ensure the 'welfare of the woman'. In my view, clinical information regarding risks and complications for each clinic should be publicly available."

The HFEA said: "Women considering IVF should have a full and frank discussion with their clinician about the risks involved and about what other treatment approaches might be suitable, such as newer techniques like in vitro maturation (IVM) or soft IVF (using fewer drugs)."

Overall scrutiny was difficult, it said, as there is no central reporting system. An HFEA commissioned report found severe OHSS occurs in about 1 per cent of treatment cycles in the UK.

sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all