29 Jan 2021

Minister releases Health Complaints Commissioner’s Inquiry into Assisted Reproductive Treatment Practices Report

The Health Complaints Commissioner’s (the Commissioner) report on the Inquiry into Assisted Reproductive Treatment Practices in Victoria has been officially released by the Victorian Minister for Health, the Hon Martin Foley, MP.

Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack welcomed the release of the Inquiry into Assisted Reproductive Treatment Practices in Victoria Report, (the ART Report) saying she was “grateful to the Minister for his support of her recommendations and the recognition by the Government of the need for action in such a complex and emotionally fraught area of public health.”

The ART report followed an extensive 12-month period of consultation and detailed research, and focused on two main areas:

  • the current state of the provision of ART services in Victoria, and
  • the lived patient experience of ART.

Ms Cusack said the Minister-referred inquiry, under the Health Complaints Act 2016, which began in March 2019, related to the provision of assisted reproductive treatment services and unsafe and unethical practices by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and ART providers in Victoria.

Infertility affects people of all genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds and ART is a unique field in medicine, that is strongly impacted by social and scientific changes. The industry has had to adapt to changing social mores, clinical advances and legal and ethical issues.

Today, according to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, one in 20 Victorian children is born through assisted reproductive treatment, and the industry generates annually an estimated $550 million nationally.

The Commissioner’s ART inquiry followed on from the Independent Review of Assisted Reproductive Treatment in 2019 led by Michael Gorton, AM, which considered the legislative and regulatory framework underpinning the ART industry in Victoria (the Gorton Review).

The Commissioner released a discussion paper in June 2019, inviting submissions from those who had undergone or were receiving ART, from providers of ART services and their staff, and from other key stakeholders.

The discussion paper created great interest and 121 submissions were received from past and current ART patients (including family members and friends), ART providers and their staff (former and current), and other interested stakeholders and advocacy bodies, Ms Cusack said.

Ms Cusack said, “given the sensitivity of the issues, it was vital that as much information as possible relating to ART services was available”, and this meant that all submitters were given the option of remaining anonymous.

Public consultation forums were also held in Melbourne and Ballarat during September 2019, attended by ART consumers, providers and other stakeholders. The submissions and feedback from the consultation forums formed the basis of the Commissioner’s final ART Report.

In her final ART Report, Commissioner Cusack makes recommendations regarding ART service provision in Victoria, including several recommendations relating specifically to ART providers’ communication and counselling services, adjuvant treatments and complaint handling. These recommendations are in addition to, and complement, those previously made in the Gorton Review.

Ms Cusack also expressed her appreciation for the time taken by ART providers in making submissions and for their attendance at consultation forums, thereby helping to improve ART services in Victoria.

“When this inquiry began, there were concerns about ‘unscrupulous providers’ of ART services, preying on Victorians desperate to have children,’’ she said.

However, following the inquiry and completion of the report, the Commissioner said she was “satisfied that those ART providers and fertility specialists who made submissions to this inquiry and who attended the provider consultation forums are committed to achieving successful outcomes for their patients.”

“What is clear however is that, despite the best intentions of providers, there is significant room for improvement and consumers want a more patient-centred approach,” she said.

Ms Cusack said she was “extremely grateful to the Victorian community, and to all those who provided submissions and who participated in consultation forums.”

“In many cases, speaking openly was a highly emotional and stressful experience for those people who had experienced ART services, including their families, and I especially thank them for having the courage to share their stories,” she said.

The Commissioner also paid tribute to “the meticulous and tireless efforts of her team who worked on the inquiry, facilitated consultations and assisted with the report’s compilation.”

To view the report, see Inquiry into Assisted Reproductive Treatment Practices in Victoria Report, or visit: hcc.vic.gov.au/resources