Longing for a baby? The IVF postcode lottery can have a high price

TThe cost of fertility treatment varies drastically in England, with some people paying almost 30% more for IVF depending on where they live. New figures show a clear ‘postcode lottery’, with huge differences between different cities.

London comes out as the most expensive with an average total cost of £6,150. But for the same treatment in Manchester it is £4,764, according to data given to the Observer by Fertility Mapper, a website that aggregates costs and provides personal reviews and experiences of UK private clinics.

The number of people receiving the treatment is increasing, with 10% more IVF and donor insemination cycles in 2021 compared to 2019.

At the same time, according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK regulator, there has been a 16% drop in the number of cycles funded by the NHS.

Although the NHS offers some treatment, this again varies from country to country, with the number of cycles largely depending on where you live.

However, according to the HFEA, approximately 60% of treatment is privately funded each year.

Fertility Mapper reveals that average advertised costs vary significantly 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 then Leeds at £3,475.

These advertised costs do not include additional costs such as blood tests, screenings and storage of excess embryos.

When these are included, London becomes the most expensive at an average of £6,150. Brighton and Birmingham follow at £5,310, Bristol at £4,917, Leeds at £4,820, with Manchester at £4,764.

IVF price differences

This means that 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 that people hoping to conceive face as they face a lengthy process. High costs in Britain have led to a growing number of Brits traveling abroad, where prices can be significantly lower.

But even within British cities there are huge differences. In London, where the biggest difference was found, prices ranged from £3,745 to £13,408 across 35 private clinics. While in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester the minimum was £3,735 and the maximum was £6,932.50.

There are similar price differences between egg freezing packages, which typically include treatment, 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 £3,960 in Brighton.

This once again highlights the sharp differences across the country, with London not always ranked as the most expensive country.

Private fertility clinics are not regulated when it comes to the amount they can charge, so they can 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 have inconsistent access to private treatment.

“Fertility clinics are free to set their own costs, just 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 patients choose.

“We strongly encourage patients to shop around and consider a wide range of factors when making a final decision.”

For those who want 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 CEO of Fertility Mapper, says: “Patients suddenly become consumers when they start IVF and it can be very difficult for people who are not medically trained to know what they are buying.

“Those who undergo IVF become experts in their own right and we believe their reviews, combined with clinic fees, are a way to promote transparency in this market so that people are better informed to take control of their fertility journey.”

‘It can be a great success, but also heartbreak and an empty wallet’

With relief, joy and gratitude, Monique Kelly-Kamperdijk (pictured left), 40, gave birth to her daughter Sophie-Alexandra in 2017 after three failed rounds of IVF.

The cost of private treatment was around £16,000, which, after her elation at having a child, frustrated the London-based lawyer. “We are very lucky and grateful for our daughter. It’s the best money we’ve ever spent. Looking back, I was a bit gullible,” she says.

Together with her husband, Alan, Monique had been trying to have a baby since 2013. After tests showed they were unlikely to conceive naturally, they began IVF treatment on the NHS.

At the time, they qualified for three free rounds, each with a waiting list of approximately nine months. But not wanting to wait, they also approached a private clinic in London and started a course, eventually doing two private rounds and one on the NHS.

A fourth round, done privately, was successful.

Monique says that without a medical background it was difficult to know which add-ons were really necessary and which would work. “At that time, all I wanted to do was have a child. I would have paid to increase the odds, but there are some things I look back on now and wonder if they actually made a material difference,” she says.

While she says she understands that private clinics operate as money-making businesses, she believes patients should be informed from the start about the additional treatments and any unproven treatments they may have to pay for, as these costs can quickly add up.

“With IVF it can be a great success, or it can be heartbreak and an empty wallet. People are so desperate that they will ignore the facts. At one point it felt like it was all about the money. That said, we are very blessed with the outcome,” says Monique.

“Not all clinics are there to take advantage of patients, but I do think they can be more transparent about costs and sensitive, as at some point it became a bit of an assembly line exercise.”