Women in their forties are being exploited by IVF clinics "trading on hope", the UK's fertility watchdog has warned.
Figures published in the Daily Telegraph reveal that since 2003, the number of women in their forties seeking fertility treatment has more than doubled – to 10,835 cases in 2017.
However, the odds of IVF being successful drop dramatically as a woman progresses through her forties.
NHS guidelines state that a woman aged between 40 and 42 should be offered one IVF cycle on the NHS. Women older than this aren't generally offered a cycle on the NHS, so private clinics may be their only option.
Fertility watchdog the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says that for a 43-year-old woman using her own eggs, there is a 3% chance of a birth from IVF. For a woman of 44 or over using her own eggs, there is just a 2% chance of a birth.
Sally Cheshire, chairwoman of the HFEA, warned that some private clinics are making claims like "guaranteed baby or your money back" to persuade older women to pay for IVF cycles. She also said that some clinics are quoting misleading success rates that include births by much young women.
“Some of the private sector clinics use very selective success rates in their sales tactics which we are also trying to stop. Because they need to be honest about their results by age group, by category of patient - all of which is available on our website,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
“I would like our clinics to be honest about the success rates. They are catering to a bunch of vulnerable women. What the clinics shouldn’t be doing is trading on that hope. That hope and vulnerability. They should be honest and transparent about a woman or a couple’s chances.”
According to the HFEA, the average cost of an IVF cycle in a private cynic is between £3,000 and £5,000. However, Cheshire said there is "anecdotal evidence" that some women have been charged as much as £20,000 by clinics selling "add-ons" purporting to increase the chance of success.
Cheshire said she would like the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which created the HFEA to monitor and licence the UK's fertility clinics, to be amended to give the watchdog extra powers to regulate the price points of IVF cycles in private clinics.