First couple in Britain to sue over ‘worthless’ IVF extras
They spent £7,000 on add- ons on top of £20,000 treatment
A COUPLE who spent thousands of pounds on controversial ‘ add- on’ fertility treatments that experts say are useless and possibly harmful are set to become the first in Britain to sue a clinic for ‘mis-selling’ therapies.
Legal secretary Tracy Wint underwent two years of unsuccessful IVF treatment, spending more than £20,000 in her desperation to have a second child with her husband Mark.
During that time she claims Oxford Fertility convinced her and her husband to fork out an extra £7,000 for add-ons doctors said would boost their chances of having a baby. However, the pair now believe they were ‘worthless’.
Couples are often persuaded by private doctors to buy expensive top-up procedures such as ‘glue’ to stick embryos to the womb, or genetic tests to screen for abnormalities.
But a report last year by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said many such treatments have no scientific basis, are dangerous, and could even harm a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant.
Mrs Wint, 41, said: ‘We feel like we’ve paid out thousands for add-ons that are not proven to work and carry health risks. We were desperate. If they had said they could sprinkle fairy dust and it will make you pregnant we would have bought it.’
The couple are now planning to sue Oxford Fertility for ‘mis-selling’ what they believe were pointless extra therapies. The legal action is the first known case of its kind.
Their lawyers, Vardags, also hope other couples will join in a class action suit to sue clinics offering treatments with no proven benefits.
Mrs Wint started IVF in 2014 when she discovered she was unable to have a second child because her fallopian tubes were damaged.
She and her husband attended the Cotswold Fertility Unit near their home in Cheltenham – the unit is part of Oxford Fertility.
After a miscarriage, Mrs Wint went on to have three cycles of IVF, all of which failed. The couple say the clinic then convinced them to spend £600 on embryo glue to boost their odds of conceiving.
But the report by the HFEA said more evidence was needed to show that the glue increases a woman’s chance of having a baby. The pair also paid £300 for an endometrial ‘ scratch’ to the womb’s lining, which helps the embryo nestle in the furrow created.
The HFEA has said ‘stronger evidence’ is needed to prove this raises the likelihood of pregnancy and has warned that it can cause infections to spread in the uterus.
Mrs Wint then had a £400 experimental test to find out if her womb was harbouring ‘ natural killer’ (NK) cells, which were preventing her from conceiving.
The clinic told the couple in a letter that these cells – part of the immune system – can increase the chances of an embryo failing to implant, but can be treated with steroids. But the HFEA states on its website that there is ‘no evidence’ a woman’s immune system will reject an embryo and taking steroids could cause blood pressure or diabetes.
Finally, the Wints paid £2,100 for Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS) that tests embryos for genetic abnormalities to ensure the best ones are implanted.
Yet Mrs Wint said that when the results came back, they were ‘inconclusive’ so the exercise felt like a ‘complete waste of money’.
The HFEA has warned this screening can show up non-existent problems and does not benefit women aged over 37. In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, the couple told how doctors ‘dangled’ treatments in front of them when they were at their most vulnerable.
During one IVF round, Mrs Wint recalled that Oxford Fertility staff told them it’s ‘up to you’, but they ‘might look back and regret it’ if they did not use the embryo glue.
On another occasion they received an information sheet which claimed that research showed an endometrial scratch boosted the odds of IVF resulting in a birth by up to 70 per cent. ‘Those are big claims and you’re not going to dismiss that so we bought the add-on,’ she said.
In February last year, the HFEA published a report stating that a number of the extra treatments being offered by fertility clinics carried ‘serious’ risks, including kidney failure and septicaemia. Lawyer Louisa Ghevaert, of Vardags, said: ‘Clinics have a duty to be vigilant and clear about the benefits of “add-ons” while they remain questionable. It also begs the question why they are being offered at all if they offer no benefit.’
A spokeswoman for Oxford Fertility said the HFEA did not advise against top-ups, adding: ‘We are very clear with all of our patients on the pros and cons of treatments.’
‘The HFEA uses a traffic-light system to grade evidence for emerging techniques. It grades embryo glue, endometrial scratch and PGS as yellow, and states that research consistently shows benefit. However, further evidence is needed.’
LEGAL ACTION: Tracy Wint and her husband Mark