A new survey has shown that one in five patients did not receive information on counselling when they had fertility treatment, something that clinics need to work on, charity Fertility Network UK suggests
The independent national survey of patients who recently had fertility treatment was conducted by YouGov and commissioned by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
Fertility Network UK‘s chief executive, Aileen Feeney, said of the concerns highlighted: “This shows more needs to be done to support and inform fertility patients who are often incredibly vulnerable when going through treatment.”
According to the survey, patients were more likely than partners to say that they felt involved and treated with respect and dignity in certain aspects of their treatment and those receiving treatment more recently reported higher levels of the use of treatment add ons than those who were treated two to five years ago.
But it did reveal that 75 per cent of patients are satisfied with their treatment experience at clinics, with no significant differences in satisfaction levels among patients whether they paid privately or were treated by the NHS.
What is more worrying is 62 per cent of patients whose most recent treatment was at a private clinic said they paid more than they expected.
Sally Cheshire CBE, HFEA chair said: “I am pleased that this report indicates there is continued good performance across the UK fertility sector, but we know there is more work to be done to make sure that all patients receive the best quality of care.
“This year we have gone further to gather patient feedback by carrying out the first national patient survey. The results provide us with rich data to better understand the experiences of patients and their partners in fertility clinics. While it is good news that the majority of patients are satisfied with their treatment we are concerned that a quarter are not, and we will be working closely with clinic leaders to address this.
“We have renewed our focus on clinic leadership to ensure they not only meet the legal and clinical responsibilities under the HFE Act, but those of ethical and responsible treatment and care. We also want clinics to provide patients with better emotional support throughout their treatment and we have updated the requirements in our Code of Practice to reflect this. We will continue to monitor progress in all areas through our inspections and patient feedback mechanisms.”
The HFEA has produced a report on the state of the fertility sector which had indicated it is generally performing well.
The report includes details of non-compliances, incidents and complaints handling in clinics.
The number of incidents reported in 2017 remains low at 570 (0.7 per cent of all treatment cycles) although this increased by 4.6 per cent from last year, in line with the number of cycles carried out. Clinical incidents include laboratory incidents, equipment failure and cases of severe or critical ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) which clinics must report to the HFEA immediately. The risk of OHSS from fertility treatment remains low but there were 52 patients reported as having severe or critical OHSS in 2017-18.
Sally Cheshire reiterated the need for clinics to be open about incidents so that they and the wider sector can learn from them.
She said: “The UK’s fertility sector shows a high level of professionalism, reflected by fewer than 600 incidents occurring out of more than 80,000 treatments, with no grade A incidents reported in the last year.
“But any incident is one too many and it’s not only the grade A incidents that can have an adverse effect on patients. Clinical and administrative errors can cause patients distress and more work must be done in clinics to prevent incidents occurring, including cases of OHSS. We are working closely with partners, the professional bodies and clinics to ensure the systems for the prevention and reporting of incidents, including OHSS are as rigorous as possible.”
Commenting on the HFEA’s state of the fertility sector report and patient survey, Aileen Feeney, chief executive of patient-focused charity Fertility Network, said: ‘Fertility Network is pleased to have supported the HFEA in the development of the new National Fertility Patient Survey, and that their plans provide a focus on clinics demonstrating how they are delivering, and improving services to better meet the emotional and support needs of patients and their partners.
“Fertility patients and their partners’ emotional needs are far too often overlooked, that’s why Fertility Network has launched its Patient Pledge scheme which encourages clinics to make a commitment to recognising the importance of and supporting the emotional needs of all patients.
“It is concerning that, from this first survey, we can see that a quarter of patients were not satisfied with their treatment experience; one in five patients say they did not receive any information about counselling; and over three-fifths (62 per cent) of patients whose most recent treatment was at a private clinic say they paid more than they expected to.”