Warning over ‘misleading’ egg-freezing success claims: Charity says clinics charging £8,000 packages are ‘exploiting’ desperate women

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Fertility clinics are giving desperate women false hope by misleading them about their chances of having a baby with frozen eggs, experts claim. 

Up to four in 10 clinics offering the service privately may be breaching advertising guidance by not making the success rates clear, an investigation found. 

One charity accused offending clinics of ‘exploiting women rather than empowering them’.

Vast numbers of women are now freezing their eggs, with the procedure — which costs thousands of pounds — seen as a ‘back-up plan’. 

BBC analysis of the 78 fertility clinics’ websites that advertise private egg freezing in the UK found 32 (41 per cent) did not clearly label a patient’s chance of successfully having a baby. 

Up to four in 10 clinics offering egg freezing privately may be breaching advertising guidance by not making the success rates clear, an investigation found. Natalie Thomas (pictured) — now 42 — chose to froze her eggs at the age of 39 with a private clinic. The science teacher admitted she struggled to understand what her chances of having a baby were, based on the clinic’s information. She later discovered the clinic she chose had a lower than average success rate and moved her eggs to a new clinic

Dr Catherine Hill (pictured), interim chief executive of the charity, The Fertility Network, said: 'I feel very angry for patients because they are being misled by this level of information. They¿re not feeling like they are getting the information from clinics. What they should be getting is individualised information on their chances of success. If a clinic isn¿t providing that, there is then the potential of exploiting women rather than empowering them'

Dr Catherine Hill (pictured), interim chief executive of the charity, The Fertility Network, said: ‘I feel very angry for patients because they are being misled by this level of information. They’re not feeling like they are getting the information from clinics. What they should be getting is individualised information on their chances of success. If a clinic isn’t providing that, there is then the potential of exploiting women rather than empowering them’

Many listed successful thaw rates — a process where eggs are defrosted to be used in fertility treatments — of between 80 and 95 per cent.

They did not make clear this is only one stage of the egg freezing process, however. 

With multiple stages to the process before an embryo is successfully implanted, the chances of having a baby are dramatically lower. 

Success rates can be as low as three per cent for eggs frozen when women were in their late 30s.

One 2018 study from the regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), also found the use of a patients’ own frozen eggs resulted in a live birth only 18 per cent of the time. 

The BBC analysis also found 31 of the clinics published defrost rates without stating how many patients the information was based on or specifying their sources.

Natalie Thomas — now 42 — chose to freeze her eggs at the age of 39 with a private clinic.  

The science teacher admitted she struggled to understand what her chances of having a baby were, based on the clinic’s information.

‘It was a journey that I felt very alone on and that I was the one that was driving it and was having to do a lot of research myself,’ Ms Thomas said.

She later discovered the clinic she chose had a lower than average success rate and moved her eggs to a new clinic.

Ms Thomas added: ‘During the treatment when you’re having your eggs collected or having a scan, you definitely feel like a patient.

‘When you’re sat there in the office and they’re going through all their packages, you definitely feel like a customer.’

She spent £18,500 in total and gave birth to her son, Huxley, in March last year. 

Dr Catherine Hill, interim chief executive of the charity, The Fertility Network, said: ‘I feel very angry for patients because they are being misled by this level of information.

‘They’re not feeling like they are getting the information from clinics. 

‘What they should be getting is individualised information on their chances of success.

‘If a clinic isn’t providing that, there is then the potential of exploiting women rather than empowering them.’

Rachel Cutting, the watchdog HFEA’s director of compliance and information, said: ‘We are concerned about the information women are getting when they’re considering this process. 

‘It’s a medical procedure, there are risks. There is not a lot of data about success rates. And actually, this is not guaranteed.’

Rising numbers of celebrities have opted for the procedure. Ex-Geordie Shore star Vicky Pattison revealed she underwent egg freezing last year, sharing the process with her 5.5million Instagram followers

Rising numbers of celebrities have opted for the procedure. Ex-Geordie Shore star Vicky Pattison revealed she underwent egg freezing last year, sharing the process with her 5.5million Instagram followers

'Freezing your eggs is still just available to a very privileged and very specific section of Britain. I do think that needs to change,' Vicky Pattison told the BBC in its new 30-minute documentary 'Egg Freezing and Me'. 'I do think some people are influenced by celebrity culture and their favourite influencers. However, I do think the huge rise in egg freezing can be attributed to something entirely different. Times are just changing. My decision might not be for everyone but I¿m not asking it to be.' Pictured, Ms Pattison last year after her egg retrieval in London

‘Freezing your eggs is still just available to a very privileged and very specific section of Britain. I do think that needs to change,’ Vicky Pattison told the BBC in its new 30-minute documentary ‘Egg Freezing and Me’. ‘I do think some people are influenced by celebrity culture and their favourite influencers. However, I do think the huge rise in egg freezing can be attributed to something entirely different. Times are just changing. My decision might not be for everyone but I’m not asking it to be.’ Pictured, Ms Pattison last year after her egg retrieval in London

Currently, the fertility treatment has a success rate of up to 40 per cent. Around a third of IVF cycles among under-35s resulted in a live birth in 2019 in the UK. Yet this dropped to just 4 per cent in over-44s

Currently, the fertility treatment has a success rate of up to 40 per cent. Around a third of IVF cycles among under-35s resulted in a live birth in 2019 in the UK. Yet this dropped to just 4 per cent in over-44s

Egg freezing involves following the first steps of IVF , which takes two to three weeks to complete. Women take drugs to boost their egg production and help them mature. Eggs are then collected under general anaesthetic, mixed with a freezing solution and frozen. They can be stored for up to 55 years

Egg freezing involves following the first steps of IVF , which takes two to three weeks to complete. Women take drugs to boost their egg production and help them mature. Eggs are then collected under general anaesthetic, mixed with a freezing solution and frozen. They can be stored for up to 55 years 

A spokesperson for the British Fertility Society also added it was ‘essential’ that information provided by clinics ‘must always be transparent and should never mislead’. 

A spokesperson for the regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority said that all information provided by fertility clinics ‘must be clear, timely and easy to understand’.

Latest figures from the HFEA show there were more than 4,200 egg storage cycles in 2021, almost double the 2,500 in 2019.

It is thought the number of women freezing their eggs surged during Covid because many feared they were ‘running out of time’. The pandemic brought dating to a halt for single women for months at a time, leaving some unsure when they would meet the right partner to start a family.

Rising numbers of celebrities have opted for the procedure, including Kourtney Kardashian and Rita Ora. 

Ex-Geordie Shore star Vicky Pattison revealed she underwent egg freezing last year, sharing the process with her 5.5million Instagram followers. 

‘Freezing your eggs is still just available to a very privileged and very specific section of Britain. I do think that needs to change,’ she told the BBC in its new 30-minute documentary ‘Egg Freezing and Me’. 

‘I do think some people are influenced by celebrity culture and their favourite influencers. 

‘However, I do think the huge rise in egg freezing can be attributed to something entirely different. Times are just changing.

‘My decision might not be for everyone but I’m not asking it to be.’

Egg freezing involves following the first steps of IVF, which takes two to three weeks to complete. 

Women take drugs to boost their egg production and help them mature. 

Eggs are then collected under general anaesthetic, mixed with a freezing solution and frozen. They can be stored for up to 55 years. 

The process is deemed ‘mostly very safe’ by the HFEA. Some women, however, do experience side effects from their fertility drugs. 

These are usually mild, but in extreme cases women can develop OHSS — when the ovaries develop too many follicles as they overrespond to the medication. 

When this happens, fluid from the blood vessels may leak into the abdomen and, in severe cases, into the space around the heart and lungs. 

The process is financially restrictive. The average cost of an egg freezing package in the UK stands around £4,000. 

Storage costs are also extra and vary between clinics. On average this falls between £15 and £350 annually. 

The combined freezing and thawing process can cost up to an eye-watering £8,000 in total. 

Currently only patients undergoing medical treatment which may affect their fertility, for example chemotherapy or radiotherapy, are eligible to freeze their eggs on the NHS, with the upper age limit set at 42. 

Choosing to freeze eggs to have children at a later date — known as social egg freezing — is not NHS funded. 

Vicky Vinton underwent two rounds of egg freezing, one at 34 and one at 35 after the pandemic began.

Vicky Vinton underwent two rounds of egg freezing, one at 34 and one at 35 after the pandemic began. She had her fertility tested and found her the number of eggs she had were lower than average for her age. Told she would likely need two or three rounds of treatment, she took a second job to help fund the procedure and is not sure if she'll ever use them

Vicky Vinton underwent two rounds of egg freezing, one at 34 and one at 35 after the pandemic began. She had her fertility tested and found her the number of eggs she had were lower than average for her age. Told she would likely need two or three rounds of treatment, she took a second job to help fund the procedure and is not sure if she’ll ever use them

Shanian Bhopa, a PhD student from Toronto, also published a series on the app under the hashtag, discussing her decision to freeze her eggs at 25, taking viewers through the experience with her day by day. 'I did it to buy myself time to get closer to my purpose in my professional life,' she told one video. 'So hopefully one day I can be super intentional with my time as a mother'

Shanian Bhopa, a PhD student from Toronto, also published a series on the app under the hashtag, discussing her decision to freeze her eggs at 25, taking viewers through the experience with her day by day. ‘I did it to buy myself time to get closer to my purpose in my professional life,’ she told one video. ‘So hopefully one day I can be super intentional with my time as a mother’

In another video under the hashtag seen 3,000 times, Tiffany Zhu wrote: 'You're 28, have a stable relationship, an awesome career and chose to egg freeze because you can't predict the future but you can take charge of it.' She added: 'Here's to the best decision I made in my 20s. 14 days of shots and a ton of bloating but now free from that biological timeline

In another video under the hashtag seen 3,000 times, Tiffany Zhu wrote: ‘You’re 28, have a stable relationship, an awesome career and chose to egg freeze because you can’t predict the future but you can take charge of it.’ She added: ‘Here’s to the best decision I made in my 20s. 14 days of shots and a ton of bloating but now free from that biological timeline

She had her fertility tested and found her the number of eggs she had were lower than average for her age. 

Told she would likely need two or three rounds of treatment, she took a second job to help fund the procedure and is not sure if she’ll ever use them.  

‘So far I’ve spent between £7,000 and £8,000. It’s ridiculous, I can’t afford it. I genuinely can’t afford it. But I see it as an investment in my future,’ she told the BBC. 

Critics of the egg freezing industry have long warned clinics are ‘preying’ on women’s anxieties to sell them a treatment they may not need and may be unlikely to work.

In 2022, Professor Imogen Goold, a professor of medical law at the University of Oxford, said women in their late 30s or beyond should not be encouraged to pay to freeze their eggs, as the chances of successfully using them to have a baby were very low.

Speaking at the annual conference of the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust she added: ‘I think the worst thing is to sell egg freezing to women in their late 30s. Because selling it to someone who’s 39, in the hope that she can use that egg when she is 45, really is problematic.’ 

Meanwhile, scientists in Brussels last year discovered the majority of women who freeze their eggs do not end up using them at all.

The team from Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, studied 843 women who had chosen to have their eggs frozen between 2009 and 2019.

By May 2022 only around a quarter – 27 per cent – of the women had returned to the centre for treatment. 

And of the women who did return for fertility treatment less than half – 48 per cent – opted to use their frozen eggs. 

On average, women lose around 1,000 eggs per month and by the age of 30 have lost 90 per cent of their egg supply. 

Tegan Clarke was diagnosed with cancer at the age of just 18. Now 23, she underwent two rounds of egg freezing after completing treatment.

She told the BBC: ‘I’m 23, but my fertility is 33. So they can class me as medically infertile because I’m not where I should be for my age.

‘It does hurt sometimes. Watching my sister-in-law have a baby and my best friend’s sister have a baby, sometimes I looked and I thought that might not be me.’

What is egg freezing? How much does it cost? And is it safe? Everything you need to know about the procedure 

What does it involve? 

An initial evaluation with a fertility specialist will likely involve blood tests, a pelvic ultrasound scan and a discussion of your medical history.

If you proceed with egg freezing, the first stage of the process, known as ‘ovarian stimulation’, will start. 

This involves hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs rather than the one egg that is typically and naturally released each month. 

This treatment entails multiple visits to the fertility clinic over a few weeks, with your blood hormone levels and ovaries regularly monitored.

When the time is right for them to come out, a medical professional will use an ultrasound guided needle and, with a suction device, remove the eggs — seven to 14, on average, for women aged under 38 — from the ovarian follicles.

The extracted eggs will be transported into the laboratory, evaluated, and flash-frozen by an embryologist — using an ultra-rapid procedure called vitrification — and then typically placed into a flask containing liquid nitrogen. 

Storage at very cold temperatures, below -150C (-238F), allows the eggs to remain viable for use at a later date.

When you want to use them, the eggs will be thawed and those that have survived intact will be injected with your partner’s or donor’s sperm.

How long can eggs be stored?

Women in the UK can now store their frozen eggs for up to 55 years. 

This rule, which also applies to sperm and embryos, has been in place since July 2022, when the duration increased from the previous 10-year limit. 

However, women will need to renew their consent for a clinic storing their eggs every 10 years.

And those who frozen their eggs before July 2022 and want them to be stored for longer than 10 years need to contact their clinic to see if it is possible.

How much does it cost?

The entire processes from freezing eggs to thawing in the UK costs £7,000 to £8,000, on average.

While having your eggs collected and frozen will clock up a bill of around £3,350, this is just one part of the process. 

Hormonal medication that needs to be taken to stimulate egg production before the procedure costs approximately £500-£1,500 on top of that. 

Storage costs are extra and vary between clinics but tend to be between £125 and £350 per year, according to HFEA and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. 

Thawing eggs and transferring them to the womb costs an average of £2,500. 

Which clinics offer egg freezing? 

The HFEA is responsible for licensing and inspecting UK fertility clinics, and they publish scores for each fertility clinic inspected. 

Available licensed UK clinics can be found on the HFEA website by entering a postcode. 

How safe is the procedure? 

According to the HFEA, IVF is ‘mostly very safe’. 

Some women however do experience side effects from their fertility drugs.

These are usually mild, but in extreme cases women can develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a potentially serious complication of fertility treatment. 

It can range from mild to severe, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say. 

Mild OHSS is common and usually gets better with time. More severe cases require specialist care and hospital admission.

Key symptoms of OHSS to be aware of include mild abdominal swelling, discomfort and nausea in mild cases. Severe OHSS signs involve extreme thirst and dehydration. A serious, but rare, complication is also formation of a blood clot – thrombosis – in the legs or lungs.

How successful is it?

Egg freezing should be considered an insurance policy rather than a guarantee, according to  embryologists. 

Success rates are largely dependent on the woman’s age when they are frozen, but experts say what also matters is the total number of eggs available for use. 

Just like when utilising fresh eggs, not every egg will fertilise, not every fertilised egg will result in a viable embryo, and not every viable embryo will lead to a live birth. 

One US study found that the chance of a live birth among women using their own frozen eggs was 39 per cent overall.

This rose to 51 per cent among those who were younger than 38 when they froze their eggs. 

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