The cost of fertility treatment in England varies dramatically, with some people paying almost 30% more for IVF treatment depending on where they live. New figures show a clear ‘postcode lottery’ with big differences between different cities. London is the most expensive, with an average total cost of £6,150. In Manchester, on the other hand, the same treatment costs £4,764. This is according to data provided to the Observer by Fertility Mapper, a website that collates costs and provides personal reviews and experiences of private clinics in the UK.
The number of people undergoing such treatment is increasing, with 10% more IVF and donor insemination cycles being carried out in 2021 compared to 2019.
At the same time, the number of NHS-funded cycles has fallen by 16%, according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK regulator.
The NHS does provide some treatments, but again, this varies across the country and the number of cycles largely depends on where you live.
However, according to the HFEA, around 60% of treatments per year are privately funded.
Fertility Mapper shows that the average cost varies widely across six English cities. Brighton is the most expensive at £4,590, followed by London at £3,910, Bristol at £3,795, Birmingham at £3,710, Manchester at £3,650 and finally Leeds at £3,475.
These costs do not include additional costs such as blood tests, investigations and the storage of surplus embryos.
When these costs are included, London is the most expensive with an average of £6,150. Brighton and Birmingham follow at £5,310, Bristol at £4,917, Leeds at £4,820 and Manchester at £4,764.
This means someone undergoing IVF in London could pay 29% more than someone in Manchester or 28% more than someone in Leeds.
Paying for treatment is just one of the many challenges people trying to have children face when dealing with a lengthy process. The high costs in the UK have led to more and more Brits traveling abroad, where prices can be significantly cheaper.
But even within British cities there are huge differences. In London, where the biggest difference was found, prices at 35 private clinics ranged from £3,745 to £13,408. In Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester the minimum amount was £3,735 and the maximum was £6,932.50.
There are similar price differences between egg freezing packages, which typically include handling and storage for at least a year.
The most expensive was Leeds with an average of £4,865, followed by Birmingham at £4,850, London at £4,390, Manchester at £4,366.50, Bristol at £4,134.50 and Brighton at £3,960.
This once again highlights the big differences in the country, of which London is not always the most expensive.
Private fertility clinics are not regulated in terms of fees, they can charge a fee and therefore set their own prices. They may include or exclude different elements, which can make it difficult for consumers to compare comparable costs.
The HFEA says it is concerned that patients across the country do not have consistent access to private treatment.
“Fertility clinics are free to set their costs like any other private healthcare provider,” it says. “Unfortunately, this means that the same treatment can be two or even three times more expensive, depending on which clinic the patient chooses.
“We strongly encourage patients to shop around and consider a variety of factors when making their final decision.”
For those wishing to compare and contrast, the HFEA has its own database of UK clinics.
However, it is usually not practical for someone to choose a clinic in another part of the country.
Kayleigh Hartigan, founder and chief executive of Fertility Mapper, says: “Patients suddenly become consumers when they start IVF and it can be very difficult for people without medical training to know what they are buying.”
“Those undergoing IVF are becoming experts in their own right, and we believe their reviews, combined with clinic costs, are a way to increase transparency in this market so people are more informed and in control of their fertility journey can take over.”
“It can be a great success, but it can also be heartbreak and an empty wallet.”
With relief, joy and gratitude, Monique Kelly-Kamperdijk, 40, gave birth to her daughter Sophie-Alexandra in 2017 after three failed rounds of IVF.
The cost of the private treatment was around £16,000, which has left the London-based lawyer frustrated given her joy at having a child. “We are very happy and grateful for our daughter; it is the best money we have ever spent. Looking back, I was a bit gullible,” she says.
Monique and her husband Alan had been trying to have a child since 2013. After tests revealed they were unlikely to conceive naturally, they began IVF treatment on the NHS.
At that time, they qualified for three free rounds, each with a waiting list of about nine months. However, not wanting to wait, they also contacted a private clinic in London, started a course and ended up doing two private visits and one on the NHS.
A fourth round, conducted privately, was successful.
Monique says without a medical background, it’s hard to know which add-ons are actually necessary and which ones will work. “At the time I just wanted to have a baby. “I would have paid to increase the odds, but there are some things that I look back on now and wonder if they actually made a significant difference,” she says.
While she understands that private clinics operate like businesses to make money, she believes patients should be informed from the outset about the additional services and any unproven treatments they may then pay for, as these costs quickly escalate can shoot.
“With IVF it can be a great success, but also heartbreak and an empty wallet. People are so desperate that they overpay. At some point it seemed to me that it was all about money. Nevertheless, we are very satisfied with the result,” says Monique.
“Not all clinics are there to take advantage of patients, but I think they could be more transparent and sensitive about costs because at some point it became a bit of an assembly line exercise.”
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