If you’re not eligible for IVF treatment on the NHS or you’ve decided you want to go private, there are plenty of clinics to choose from. But how do you know that a private clinic is right for you? And how do you go about researching the best one for your needs? This article contains everything you need to know.
I’m old/overweight/have various health problems and the NHS won’t go near me. Will a private fertility clinic be willing to treat me?
The NHS has strict criteria because it’s using taxpayers’ money to help people get pregnant; it therefore has a duty to select patients who are most likely to benefit (preferably first time round) from fertility treatment. When you go private, on the other hand, you’re the one paying – which means the clinic’s duty is to you and no one else.
There are no limits to who can and can’t be given IVF under UK law – which means it’s all down to the criteria set by each individual establishment. You’d admittedly be hard-pressed to find a clinic willing to treat an 80-year-old chain smoker who’s already been through the menopause, but still: the admission rules of private clinics are generally less strict compared to the NHS.
To see the criteria for a particular clinic, you can either visit that clinic’s website and look around for it there, or call up the clinic to ask, or use this “search for a clinic” service from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
Can I trust that the private clinic actually believes I can conceive with IVF?
It’s both a good thing and a potentially bad thing that private fertility clinics tend to have much looser criteria for treatment than the NHS.
Why might it be a bad thing? Because if you have a combination of factors that make success highly unlikely, you might pay a fortune for treatment and still not be pregnant by the end of it.
That’s an understandable fear, but – thankfully – not the reality in the UK. Even if you think private clinics are all about putting profits over patient satisfaction, such clinics would collapse almost immediately from bad PR and/or bad success rates. Their incentives are aligned with yours: they want to help you if they think they can help, while you only want to pay for treatment if you think there’s a half-decent chance of being up the duff by the end of it.
What’s more, all fertility clinics must have a licence to operate from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment in the UK. Obtaining (and keeping) a licence involves inspections to make sure their services comply with the HFEA’s very strict Code of Practice. Part of that Code of Practice involves providing accurate information about success rates. For example:
“(b)… The information should not highlight a high success rate that applies only to a small, selected group of patients.
(c) The data should show split by maternal age and, if appropriate, by treatment type.
(d) The information should provide raw numbers rather than just percentages.
(e) The website should provide the national rate and like-for-like comparisons (the same year, maternal age, treatment type, etc.).”
None of this means you should walk into any old clinic and hand over your money without a second thought – especially if you have a tricky fertility condition that some clinics might have expert knowledge in. Be sure to check each clinic’s reviews, ratings and success rates on the HFEA website (more on this below) – and ask them questions about how they’ve successfully treated patients in similar situations as you (e.g. similar ages, hormone levels, fertility conditions and so on).
Keep reading… there's more below.
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How do I find a list of all private IVF clinics in my area – and how do I choose between them?
The HFEA is the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment, and it regulates all IVF clinics. It has a list of all the fertility clinics in the UK (both private and NHS), which you can filter according to your location and certain criteria.
- Use the HFEA’s search for a clinic service to see and compare the following:
- Success rates (be aware: clinics sometimes present multiple types of success rate, such as “births per cycle of treatment”, “births per embryo transferred” and “births per egg collection”. The HFEA publishes all the data provided by each clinic, and compares it all to the national average)
- Patient ratings (although – as with Yelp and TripAdvisor – remember that the most and least satisfied patients are more inclined to leave a review than those who think the service they received was “fine”)
- Inspector ratings
- Whether you’re eligible for treatment there
- Whether they offer you a comprehensive counselling service as part of your treatment
Tip: don’t use the “Compare” function. Instead, click into each individual clinic after you’ve done the postcode search. That way, you’ll see ALL the information the HFEA has about it.
- Don’t rely solely on success rates. Small differences in rates are usually down to the different types of patients treated. (For example, one clinic may agree to treat over 40s – and its success rate is likely to be lower than a clinic that only treats people aged 40 and younger.) Having said that…
- Make sure the IVF success rate is at least in line with the national average.
- Decide what other factors are important to you. Do you want the clinic to be open on a Saturday? Would you prefer to see a female doctor? Is parking essential? You can find out all this and more on the HFEA’s search for a clinic service.
- Multiple birth rates should be in line with (or lower than) the national average. (It’s far more risky to have multiple babies in one go – for both you and the babies.)
- Compare costs. Fertility clinics are free to set their own costs, which means the same treatment could be markedly more expensive in one place compared to another down the street. (Competition should put the kibosh on that sort of thing, but it doesn’t always.)
- Shop around, and make sure you’re comparing like with like. (E.g. some clinics may quote a fee that doesn’t include initial consultations, whereas others do.)
- As mentioned above, ask them questions about how they’ve successfully treated patients in similar situations as you (e.g. similar ages, hormone levels, fertility conditions and so on).
- Consider speaking to them about alternatives to IVF. The best, most honest clinics will learn about your fertility problems and – if relevant – suggest alternatives to IVF that might be more successful and/or cheaper. If they don’t discuss alternatives, it may well be because IVF is the best route for you. But you could always ask and see what they say.
I've compiled some shortlists of the best private fertility clinics in each of the major cities/regions. You'll still need to do your own research on all of them, but it'll save you a bunch of time:
- The best fertility clinics in London (includes map)
- The best fertility clinic in Manchester (there's just one!)
- The best fertility clinics in the Midlands (includes map)
- The best fertility clinics in Liverpool
- The best fertility clinics in Bath and Bristol
How much does IVF cost?
Read my other article: The cost of private IVF in the UK (and how to fund it).