LETTER: Better information on IVF

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From Mrs Ruth Deech

Sir: You rightly state ("A league table too far", 12 October) that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority statistical report of in vitro fertilisation and donor insemination clinics' live birth rates should be handled with caution. That is precisely why we have published them only as part of a Patients' Guide giving other relevant advice and information.

You suggest that there are three problems. First, you state that some clinics are too small for data to be reliable, yet the margin for error shown in the Guide deals with this. Patients ask for information, and we would rather give it than withhold it. We should not assume that patients cannot comprehend some elements of the data, and omission would not help them to reach better decisions.

Second, the information is not out of date. It includes live births up to the end of 1994. It is not practicable to report any more recent validated data, simply because the time taken to treat and then report the outcome amounts to at least a year. Nevertheless the Guide states that live birth rates change, and it urges patients to ask clinics about their current pregnancy rates.

Third, research and new treatments will not be adversely affected. Any small effects envisaged in the context of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, for example, would be compensated for in the way we present the data. This has been the subject of discussion during our consultation process. Our policy is to encourage and facilitate research that will improve treatment.

We are responding to a clear need for good, accurate, usable information. It is not surprising that in a new venture such as this some clinics will be wary of the methods used. However, we and practitioners know that patients want better information than they have been getting up until now. That is what we are providing, and I am sure that we can continue to work together to this end.

Yours sincerely,

Ruth Deech

Chairman

Human Fertilisation

& Embryology Authority

London, E1

12 October

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