The British Fertility Society welcomes today’s decision by the Government to conduct an independent review of the functions of the HFEA. This was not discussed as part of the recent consultation on the HFEA’s future, however, an independent review is something we have advocated for years and is on balance our preferred option. The decision was clearly made in light of a huge number of responses to an admirably fair and transparent consultation process. We are encouraged by the HFEA’s commitment to streamline its functions and will continue to work with them to best serve the needs of patients and address the concerns of the public. We also look forward to working with the review panel to ensure that UK regulation of fertility treatment and research remains a world-leading model, and to streamline the expensive administrative burden that has unfortunately hampered these practices of late.

We have been eagerly awaiting this news since the conclusion of the consultation at the end of September 2012 and thank the Department of Health for publishing this in a timely manner. In responding to the consultation, the BFS undertook a comprehensive dialogue with its members, comprising 950 doctors, embryologists, researchers, nurses, counsellors and associated practitioners in the UK fertility sector, and submitted a response which concluded that:

  • There was strong support of BFS members for the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts and the importance of regulation in this area and an expectation that the level of regulation will remain the same;
  • Many BFS members believe that routine fertility treatment is now well established in clinical practice and therefore should be regulated no differently from other equally complex medical procedures;
  • There is evidence that a dedicated regulator for fertility treatment – a well-established, routine procedure, operated to high standards of quality and safety – is no longer justified and may be detrimental to good medical and laboratory practice;
  • BFS members agree that the regulation of embryo research needs some specific oversight to recognise the “special status” of the human embryo;
  • Many BFS members involved in embryo research, suggest that a  ‘one-stop shop’ is needed to replace the current system which requires researchers to go through different routes to obtain ethical approval and a research license – a system which is unnecessarily complex and inhibits this research in the UK;
  • Before decisions are taken on the best location for the Register of Assisted Conception Treatment, an urgent review is needed to deliver a more streamlined data collection system;
  • The establishment of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Health Research Authority (HRA), provides the scope to simplify the current overly complex regulatory enforcement framework to the benefit of patients, researchers and practitioners (a key aim of the Coalition Government);
  • The BFS support for change is heavily dependent on the effectiveness of the regulatory frameworks established by the CQC and the HRA and on the process for managing the transition, areas not addressed in the consultation document.
  • The BFS has since 2007 been calling for a review of the HFEA’s regulatory functions.

On balance, therefore, the BFS submitted a response to the consultation that was in support of the Government’s preferred option that the CQC and the new HRA take on functions from the HFEA, as this was the option that best represented the views of members which are detailed above.

In light of today’s announcement, Dr Allan Pacey, Chairman of the BFS said:

The British Fertility Society is very pleased with the Department of Health proposals for the future of the HFEA and the mechanism by which activities covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts are to be regulated.

“The HFEA was set up to respond to the concerns of the day and performed admirably in establishing a regulatory framework and successfully navigating the political, ethical and cultural issues thrown up by the emerging technology.  However, it has of late hampered the progression of the UK fertility sector without providing any enhanced regulation, its principal responsibility under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts.

“We along with many other respondents to the consultation therefore look forward to taking a thorough and objective review of the HFEA’s functions to ensure that UK fertility treatment and research continues to be well regulated under a far simpler system. The administrative time that could be spared by cutting duplication within the regulatory systems will amount to a significant reduction in NHS spend.

“It is important to note that the British Fertility Society is absolutely committed to upholding the principles enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts, specifically those that protect the interests of patients and children, and the special status of the human embryo. We advocate a review of regulatory functions from the HFEA solely in the understanding that fertility treatments and embryo research can continue to be safe, effective and ethically sound under a ‘one-stop-shop’ system, rather than the current one which leads to vast duplication of effort.

”We believe that regulation of activities covered by the Act should be done in the most efficient and effective way, and be confined to the specific requirements of the legislation and associated regulation, recognizing that assisted conception is now an accepted element of healthcare, carried out by appropriately qualified practitioners, according to established standards.”

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Notes for editors:

The British Fertility Society is a national multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine. For general information, please visit our website: http://www.fertility.org.uk/

For the full BFS response to the Department of Health’s consultation, submitted September 2012, please contact the BFS press office (contact details below).

The BFS response to the announcement of the consultation can be found at http://fertility.org.uk/news/pressrelease/12_06-DOH.html.

The Department of Health’s press release on their decision can be found at  http://mediacentre.dh.gov.uk/2013/01/25/fertility-and-tissue-regulators-to-be-reviewed-following-consultation/