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 Code of Practice. Some critics believe the HFEA doesn't do enough to keep clinics in check, but one thing it does seem to enforce is very strict rules about how clinics report success rates.
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 and ratings 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.
How do I find a list of all private IVF clinics in my area – and how do I choose between them?
When it comes to choosing between them all, I strongly recommend that you DON'T look solely at success rates. (In fact, you probably don't need to look at success rates at all.) Most UK fertility clinics have very similar success rates, and any small variations are usually down to differences in the types of patients being treated rather than the expertise of the doctors there.
(For example, one clinic might refuse to treat anyone with a BMI over 30; a high BMI affects IVF success, no matter how good the clinic is, so that particular clinic may have better success rates than one that will treat anyone regardless of their BMI.)
If you want to check out the success rates anyway, please please do so on the HFEA site rather than individual clinic websites. While the HFEA isn't exactly controversy-free, it's extremely useful because it publishes clinic data that be compared like-for-like. Clinics, on the other hand, can be incredibly cheeky with how they select and present data on their own websites.
So if you can't base your decision on success rates, how do you choose a private fertility clinic?
The following list is a good place to start. Figure out which of these factors are important to you when choosing your ideal private fertility clinic:
- Positive reviews and ratings from former patients are always a good sign. Use the HFEA’s search for a clinic service to find clinics in your area, then look at each clinic's patient ratings. You can also look at patient ratings on Google and the clinic’s Facebook page. (But bear in mind that the most and least satisfied patients are more inclined to leave a review than those who thought the service was “fine” – so take all ratings and reviews with a pinch of salt.)
Three other places to look are the message boards on Mumsnet, BabyCentre and HealthUnlocked: search for the name of your clinic and you’re sure to find thoughts, reviews and anecdotes from former and current patients.
- How much does treatment cost? 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.)
Beware, though: different clinics have different ways of presenting the cost of treatment to you, and you need to make sure you’re doing an accurate comparison. My article on private IVF costs explains everything and shows how to compare costs across clinics.
- Figure out whether you’re eligible for treatment there: some clinics have stricter criteria than others. E.g. at ABC IVF in London, you need to be aged 37 or under, have a BMI that’s under 30, and have a normal/good ovarian reserve.
- Is it important to you that they offer a comprehensive counselling service – either free or for a fee – as part of your treatment? Many clinics offer this, but not all. The HFEA page for each clinic tells you what kinds of counselling (if any) are available.
- Do you need a clinic that’s open late/early/at the weekend, to accommodate your job/ other responsibilities? Some clinics have broader opening hours than others, but you’ll need to ask rather than rely on the information on their website: those morning/evening/weekend hours could be reserved for procedures like egg retrieval rather than general scan or blood test appointments.
- Is it important that you only see female doctors? The HFEA page for each clinic tells you whether a female doctor is available.
- Is parking essential? The HFEA page for each clinic will show if parking is available.
- Do you need help with funding? Many clinics offer “baby or your money back” schemes – which have been getting more and more generous over the years. (Be sure to read the fine print, though!) This article contains more information about funding options for IVF.
- Another funding option: many clinics now partner up with loan companies to offer specialist IVF loans. Not all clinics offer it, though, so you need to check with all the places on your shortlist.
- Be wary of any clinics that push you to bump up the cost of your treatment with various add-ons like embryo glue and assisted hatching. While there’s some evidence that these add-ons work for some people, they’re certainly not the miracle cures that some people make them out to be. (Read my article about IVF add-ons and various fertility supplements here.)
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).