First cou­ple in Bri­tain to sue over ‘worth­less’ IVF ex­tras

They spent £7,000 on add-ons on top of £20,000 treat­ment

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Sanchez Man­ning SO­CIAL AF­FAIRS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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

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