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Seeking private IVF in London? Nowhere in the UK do you have more clinics to pick from — but that doesn't make choosing a fertility clinic any easier! Which fertility clinics are most likely to help you get pregnant and provide the care you deserve?

The majority of the approximately 50,000 annual cycles of IVF treatment in the UK — almost six in 10 — are funded by patients themselves [1]. With a price tag that easily exceeds £5000 per cycle, it's clear that your hopes and dreams are a booming business.

“World-leading IVF clinic”! “Consistently delivers top success rates”! “Success rates among the best in Britain”! “Most successful clinic in the UK”!

If you are in the process of selecting a fertility clinic for self-funded IVF in London — because you prefer private treatment or because you simply do not qualify for IVF on the NHS — numerous clinics are competing to convince you to place their trust in them, often selectively displaying those success rates that make the clinics look good. All offer compassion and personal care as well, of course — no clinic is going to say that they’re the place where you’ll feel like a “number, not a person”! Open evenings and free clinic tours can give you valuable insights, but they don't tell you exactly what your experience is going to be like, either.

To help make the process of choosing a fertility clinic for self-funded IVF just slightly less stressful, we've been reviewing clinics across the UK. In this overview of top London clinics, we'll be covering five clinics:

  1. The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health [2]
  2. The Lister Fertility Clinic [3]
  3. Boston Place [4]
  4. CARE London [5]
  5. The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's Assisted Conception Unit [6]

How We Chose Which London Fertility Clinics To Review

Given the fact that London has the highest concentration of fertility clinics anywhere in the country, there was just no way we could write about all of them — that would be a book, not an article. After excluding satellite clinics at which you can’t have all IVF-related procedures from start to finish, we also eliminated those clinics that have success rates below the national average and those that received less than perfect inspection ratings from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. We then looked at success rates and listened to patients' experiences to determine which clinics are most likely to give you the chance at parenthood you deserve, while also providing IVF in a comfortable and caring environment.

What Treatments Do London’s Top Fertility Clinics Offer?

London’s fertility clinics really show how increased competition can benefit customers — more clinics offer a broader range of treatment options compared to fertility clinics in other parts of the country. Not only do all of the London clinics we chose offer conventional IVF, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI — a procedure wherein a suitable sperm cell is guided directly into an egg cell), and frozen embryo transfers, they go much further. It is noteworthy that all five clinics offer fertility preservation, a procedure in which your gametes are frozen for use at a later date, and surgical sperm extraction, a treatment that helps men who are unable to ejaculate naturally gain access to their sperm cells.

While the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's ACU can advise those people who need egg or sperm donors which sperm bank to use and guide them through the process, the other four clinics recruit UK egg and sperm donors. The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health, Lister Fertility Clinic, and CARE London are the three clinics that make it clear they’re open to work with those people who require a surrogate mother to become parents.

Blastocyst transfers, in which five, six, or seven day old embryos are transferred to your uterus rather than three day old embryos as was once routine, can ensure that the most viable embryos are used. Assisted hatching, which helps embryos break out of their “shells” to allow them to implant into the uterus, can benefit women over 38, those with poorer-quality embryos, and those who’ve had failed IVF cycles before. Both procedures are available at all five clinics.

Counselling, which fertility clinics are obliged to provide access to by law, is of course offered everywhere as well.

Couples who are hoping to benefit from pre-implantation genetic screening and diagnosis (PGS and PGD) can consider four clinics — the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health, the Lister Fertility Clinic, Boston Place, and CARE London. These procedures are suitable for people who are seeking to avoid passing on specific genetic diseases as well as those who are hoping to increase their chance of pregnancy while reducing their risk of miscarriage.

Are you hoping to participate in an egg sharing programme, either as a sharer or recipient? Egg sharing is best described as a collaboration between two women, with the fertility clinic as a mediator. Women in need of an egg donor receive healthy eggs from another woman undergoing IVF at the same clinic, while egg sharers in turn benefit from no-cost IVF or IVF at an extremely reduced price. The Lister Fertility Clinic and CARE London have egg sharing programmes.

Mild stimulation IVF, which is also known by names like IVF lite or mini IVF, involves fewer drugs. This means that you pay less per cycle, as well as that the cycle is less time-consuming and invasive. Fewer eggs will be retrievable during mild IVF cycles, but your risk of developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is also greatly reduced. Mild IVF may be the right choice for you if you’re under 35 and have tubal factor infertility, but also if you’re older and have a low ovarian reserve or don’t respond well to the drugs administered over the course of conventional IVF. Those people who think they may be candidates for this may look into being treated at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health, the Lister Fertility Clinic, or CARE London.

EmbryoScope, a state-of-the-art time lapse system that allows for the monitoring of embryos without having to remove them from the incubator, is used by the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health, Lister, and Boston Place. The system increases pregnancy rates and reduces miscarriages, but even so, the CARE group — which does have EmbryoScope incubators — holds that it is not enough, and developed its own system, CAREmaps. You can read more about that in our interview with Debra Bloor, director of CARE Manchester. The Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, meanwhile, provides no information about which incubators they use.

The culture medium EmbryoGlue, used to increase pregnancy rates, is available at Boston Place, CARE London, and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Endometrial scratching, a procedure that can boost your odds of success if you’ve experienced implantation failure before, is offered to patients at the CRGH, Lister, Boston Place, and CARE London.

IMSI (Intra Cytoplasmic Morphologically-Selected Sperm Injection) is a procedure very much like ICSI, in which an extremely powerful microscope is used to determine which sperm cell to use. IMSI may or may not increase pregnancy rates, and is sometimes recommended to couples who have previously had unsuccessful IVF/ICSI cycles. It is available at the CRGH, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and CARE London.

Vitrification, a modern and safer way to freeze embryos for later use, is increasingly common at fertility clinics across the globe, and the CRGH, Lister, Boston Place, and CARE London all use it.

The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital says: “We are the first and largest centre in the UK able to offer fertility treatment to those affected by HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.” Patients affected by a communicable viral disease will want to pay special attention to this clinic, as they are specialists in the matter.  

The Lister Fertility Clinic is, meanwhile, explicit that while other clinics may refuse to treat women with “elevated basal FSH, low AMH levels or other poor markers suggesting low ovarian reserve”, they “believe that markers of low ovarian reserve should be used as a means of appropriate counselling rather than a tool for rationing or declining fertility treatment”. If you fall into this category, you will want to consider the Lister Fertility Clinic.

A Little More Information About The Clinics

Some patients will have a natural preference for a smaller fertility clinic where they can receive more personalised care, while others prefer to rely on a clinic that performs a large number of cycles. This comes down to personal choice — one isn’t better than the other.

The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health has been HFEA-licenced since 1992 — meaning, ever since the HFEA started licencing clinics in the first place, making it a highly experienced clinic. It is a large centre at which all sorts of treatments are carried out, but with 475 fresh IVF and ICSI cycles being carried out over the course of the most recent year for which data is available, not as busy as some clinics.

The Lister Fertility Clinic — also licenced since 1992 — carries out over 2000 fresh IVF and ICSI cycles  a year, making it an extremely busy clinic.

Boston Place, part of the Fertility Partnership which has clinics all over the country, is a relatively new clinic, licenced in 2013. The HFEA deems it a medium-sized clinic, and around 400 fresh IVF/ICSI cycles take place here every year.

CARE London is also part of a large group, the CARE group, which has clinics across the UK as well. They’re unique in being centrally managed, with cohesive research procedures in place that allow CARE patients at any clinic to benefit from the lessons learned across the board. CARE London was licenced in 2002 and is considered to be a large clinic. Around 800 fresh IVF and ICSI cycles take place here every year.

The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is NHS-governed, and was licenced in 2004. A medium-sized clinic, it performs around the same number of cycles as Boston Place and the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health.

Pregnancy And Birth Success Rates At London’s Top Fertility Clinics

Success rates don't tell you the whole story — success rates in line with the national average do say a lot about clinical competence, and nearly anyone would warn you to stay away from clinics with success rates below the national average. (Which is why we included no such clinics.) There’s also some things to be aware of, however.

Smaller clinics’ success rates are more likely to be influenced by individual patient factors and simple chance than larger clinics, for one thing. Such clinics aren’t less competent, but their past success rates say less about their ability to achieve the same success rates again in the future than those of larger clinics.

Likewise, in some cases, extremely high success rates may be a reflection of a clinic’s choice to only treat patients who are likely to have good outcomes. A case was even reported in the press where one team officially ran two separate London clinics, and shuttled patients whose outcomes were less likely to be successful off to their “B clinic”, leaving the success rates of the flag ship clinic pristine [7]. (No, neither clinic is reviewed here.)

Having said all that, every prospective IVF patient wants to know more about the success rates of the clinics they’re considering, and we’ll be looking at the HFEA’s data on clinical pregnancy rates for the period of July 2015 to June 2016, the most recently available data in this category, as well as live birth success rates for the year before — again, the most recently available data. [8]

The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health, which commenced 475 fresh IVF and ICSI cycles with patients’ own eggs of which 453 reached the embryo transfer stage, had a clinical pregnancy success rate of 51 per cent across all age groups. This puts the clinic above the national average of 31 per cent.

Their success rates can be broken down by age group as such:

  • Under 35: 60 per cent
  • 35-37: 54 per cent
  • 38-39: 47 per cent
  • 40-42: 37 per cent

The year before, the clinic had a live births per embryo transfer rate of 45 per cent, again above the national average.

The CRGH additionally started 757 frozen cycles with patients’ own eggs. Of these, 745 made it to embryo transfer, and the clinic attained a success rate of 51 per cent in this category. The live birth per embryo transfer rate for the year before amounted to 43 per cent.

At the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, meanwhile, 438 fresh IVF/ICSI cycles were started, and 419 reached the embryo transfer stage. Their pregnancies per cycle rate was, at 37 per cent, very respectable. Their live birth per embryo transfer rate for the year before was 33 per cent.

Let’s also look at the success rates by age group:

  • Under 35: 50 per cent
  • 35-37: 45 per cent
  • 38-39: 30 per cent
  • 40-42: 23 per cent

The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital also started 138 frozen IVF/ICSI cycles with patients’ own eggs, all but one of which made it to embryo transfer. They had a 25 per cent success rate in this category, and a live birth per embryo transfer rate of 26 per cent the year before.

Boston Place oversaw the start of 426 IVF and ICSI cycles in which patients’ own, fresh, eggs were used. A total of 362 reached the point of embryo transfer, and the cycles resulted in a success rate of 32 per cent.

What about women in your own age group?

  • Under 35: 41 per cent
  • 35-37: 41 per cent
  • 38-39: 36 per cent
  • 40-42: 19 per cent
  • 43-44: 8 per cent

Boston Place achieved a live birth per embryo transfer rate of 29 per cent the year before with regards to their fresh cycles with patients’ eggs.

The clinic kicked off 193 frozen IVF/ICSI cycles with patients’ own eggs as well, and 189 reached embryo transfer. This led to a 40 per cent pregnancies per cycle rate, and a live birth per embryo transfer rate of 30 per cent the previous year.

The HFEA notes that the Lister Fertility Clinic has “some missing data, which has a significant effect on the birth rates”. We can only report the available data, which is that Lister commenced a grand total of 2039 fresh IVF and ICSI cycles in which patients’ own eggs were used. Of these, 1677 were reported to have reached the embryo transfer stage, resulting in a success rate of 30 per cent.

At the same time, Lister’s success rate data by age group also clearly reveals that they work with patients who are older, indicating that this is a clinic you may seriously want to consider if you are over 42:

  • Under 35: 45 per cent
  • 35-37: 41 per cent
  • 38-39: 28 per cent
  • 40-42: 21 per cent
  • 43-44: 10 per cent
  • Over 44: 5 per cent

The year prior, Lister’s live birth per embryo transfer rate was 31 per cent for these fresh cycles.

The Lister Fertility Clinic also started 593 frozen IVF/ICSI cycles with patients’ own eggs, and in this case 543 reached embryo transfer. These cycles came with a clinical pregnancy success rate of 40 per cent, while frozen cycles with patients’ eggs had a live birth per embryo transfer rate of 33 per cent the year before.

CARE London’s stats again come with a special note from the HFEA: “This clinic has recorded PGD and PGS treatments as IVF & ICSI treatments which has a significant impact on the IVF & ICSI, PGD & PGS birth rates.” While we don’t know exactly what went on here, we did notice that miscommunications between fertility clinics and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority happen more often over the course of reviewing clinics across the UK. We’ve included other CARE clinics in our reviews of fertility clinics in other parts of the country, and are confident that they are not only clinically competent, but have the same standard of care across all their clinics. Having said that, we can only report the success rates that are available, so here we go.

The official data states that CARE London commenced 850 IVF and ICSI cycles with patients’ fresh eggs, and that 577 reached the embryo transfer stage. These cycles are recorded to have a pregnancies per cycle rate of 23 per cent, or by age group:

  • Under 35: 40 per cent
  • 35-37: 21 per cent
  • 38-39: 26 per cent
  • 40-42: 19 per cent
  • 43-44: 9 per cent
  • Over 44: 0 per cent

The live births per embryo transfer rate for the year before was, meanwhile, 28 per cent.

A total of 455 frozen cycles with patients’ own eggs were also reported, and 426 of these made it to embryo transfer. This resulted in a pregnancies per cycle rate of 38 per cent, with a live births per embryo transfer rate of 34 per cent the year before that.

What Do Top London Fertility Clinics’ Former Patients have Say?

We heard from several satisfied former CRGH patients, and got the overall impression that the clinic provides personal and personalised care to each patient as a result. One described the process as thorough and the staff as "friendly", while another said she felt "well taken care of" and chose the clinic because of its high success rates. Patients spoke particularly highly of Paul Serhal, the clinic’s medical director. One former patient, meanwhile, described the clinic’s admin staff as “fairly disorganised”.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital patients were all particularly impressed with the care and empathy they received from the nursing staff. We didn't hear from or come across one patient who had anything negative to say about the clinic or its staff. 

One former Lister Fertility Clinic patient described the clinic itself as clean and nicely furbished, adding that the staff were fantastic. She added that she could never have afforded to be treated there if her in-laws hadn’t chipped in. Another said that the clinic was always very busy, and appointments rarely took place at their predetermined time, but she didn’t feel rushed once she did start her appointments — the staff always had time to answer her many questions, which probably explained why appointments may run late!

Unfortunately, there are also patients who aren’t as happy with Lister — several commented that they weren’t satisfied with the impersonal care they received, adding that it was very hard to communicate with the team on the phone as well as in person, while one said she wished the experience she had had a less commercial feel.

One CARE London patient who had IVF and pre-implantation genetic screening said: “They were all absolutely amazing. The team really created space for us to ask questions and we never once felt rushed. I felt I could trust everyone at the clinic throughout. We now have a wonderful son and I would recommend CARE to anyone.”

A Boston Place patient who was previously treated elsewhere as an NHS patient was thrilled that the staff "always remembered my name", adding that she felt her questions and concerns were taken seriously, and even getting in touch with the clinic outside of working hours was easy. 

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