The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has issued a joint letter with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to the fertility clinics industry to promote compliance across the sector and ensure patients are not being misled. This follows work by both organisations to provide help and guidance so that practitioners are better equipped to comply with the law and the advertising rules.
As background, last the year the CMA raised concerns about some practices by fertility clinics, such as providing unclear price information and advertising misleading success rates. The CMA published guidance to make clear clinics’ legal obligations to treat patients fairly, and a video and guide to help IVF patients understand their consumer rights.
Alongside this, the ASA issued an Enforcement Notice to the fertility clinic industry instructing it to review their advertising materials, including claims on their websites and social media sites, to ensure they are sticking to the advertising rules and treating consumers fairly. The Enforcement Notice provides guidance to the fertility clinic industry on how to stick to the rules, including:
- Ensuring transparency when presenting success statistics
- Providing clarity when using terminology that is often scientific or technical in nature
- Being clear with any comparative claims so that consumers can make informed and meaningful comparisons with other clinics
- Presenting prices, packages and promotions in an intelligible way
- Making the basis of any promotions, packages or refund programmes suitably
- Being transparent with regards to “add-ons” (ranging from optional treatments and tests, to extra (non-essential) treatments and techniques, additional drugs, products, equipment and surgical procedures etc)
- Taking care when making efficacy claims for complementary therapies
A subsequent review by the CMA of the fertility clinic industry’s compliance with consumer law, the findings of which are published today, has found a mixed picture. It also highlights that self-funding patients are not always getting the information they need to make informed decisions.
The CMA has written to certain clinics to highlight specific issues such as failing to provide key price information, advertising misleading success rate claims (including making unsubstantiated superiority claims) and failing to provide important information about treatment add-ons.
All clinics contacted by the CMA following the review have now made changes to their practices to benefit patients.
The ASA has also conducted monitoring of advertising by fertility service providers, including IVF clinics, following the Enforcement Notice. They shared their findings with the CMA, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority and professional bodies working in the sector.
The ASA is assessing compliance rates following a monitoring exercise. If they see ongoing issues will take follow-up action where necessary including working with the CMA on enforcement.
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