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Data on IVF clinics show wide variation in success rate

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 31 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:460
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    Wide variations in the success rates of in vitro fertilisation clinics are shown in data released this Friday by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

    Some clinics are achieving a success rate as high as 46%, while the rate at others is as low as 10%.

    The data also show that overall women starting in vitro fertilisation treatment are more likely to have a child than previously.

    Figures supplied to the authority from clinics show that in 2000 and 2001 just over a fifth (21.8%) of in vitro fertilisation treatment cycles resulted in a birth. For women aged under 38 the success rate was 25.1%. That compares with success rates in 1998-9 of 19.5% for all treatment cycles and 22.1% for cycles involving women under 38.

    The data also indicate that a growing proportion of women starting treatment are aged 38 or older. In 1998-9 22% of IVF cycles involved women older than 38, whereas in 2000-1 the proportion was 25%.

    The authority says it accepts that the success rates varied greatly across clinics.

    “We know that patients and potential patients are anxious to compare the most up-to-date success rates of licensed centres,” said the authority's chairwoman, Suzi Leather. “However, it is important that the data are not seen as the basis for ‛league tables.’ Some clinics appear to have lower success results because they treat particularly difficult cases where the chance of a pregnancy is low. If you are trying to decide which clinic is best for you, you need to ask what their success rate is for couples about your age with problems similar to yours.”

    Success rates for all centres licensed to carry out in vitro fertilisation or donor insemination for the years 1999-2000 and 2000-1 are available on the authority's website ( The figures are regarded by the authority as provisional, because it has not yet verified the accuracy of the data supplied to it by clinics.

    “We are reasonably confident that the data are accurate,” said Leather. “Clinics have had the opportunity to double check that the figures we publish are those they supplied. Clinics know that the data will be subject to audit, and it would be highly embarrassing for a clinic to be discovered submitting inaccurate results.”

    The publication of clinics’ success rates for 1999-2000 was delayed because computer problems at the authority meant that the data had to be resubmitted.

    “The HFEA has, in the past, experienced some serious technical problems with its IT,” said its chief executive, Dr Maureen Dalziel. “During the last year, with the assistance of the Department of Health, an action plan has been implemented to address these, and I am confident that in future accurate data will be published in a timely manner.”

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