What is going to happen to the hfea?

Posted on January 18, 2011 by

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Last night I squeezed into a large room at the Royal Society alongside several hundred others to join a discussion about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulator of fertility clinics and all research using human embryos across the UK. This is one of the arm’s length bodies the government is proposing to abolish, it’s functions being split across several new regulators. It’s regulation of embryo research will be covered by a new research regulator.

Last night’s debate was organised by the rather fabulous Progress Educational Trust. They publish a weekly newsletter called BioNews which is a forum for all this raging debate and discussion; I suspect they’ll be some more coverage of yesterday’s discussion up there shortly but you can check out some of the opinions and discussions that have already been published here.

Questions discussed last night included:

  • Will splitting functions across several regulators increase costs, make regulation more complicated? Could it make regulation simpler/better?
  • Could expertise be lost as functions of the hfea are split up? Would the new regulators develop similar expertise?
  • Does this area of science and medicine need a different approach to regulation? It is an ethically sensitive area; will new regulators be able to maintain public confidence? Is it important that all the HFEA’s different functions, from regulating clinics and treatments to permitting research, are conducted by one regulator?
  • the HFEA engages with the public about the areas it regulates; who will do this if its functions are split?

I’ve just spotted today that an Early Day Motion (a sort of parliamentary petition which MPs can sign up to to show their support) was tabled yesterday by Kevin Barron in Parliament in support of the HFEA with 26 signatures. It’s number 1290 and you can check it out and see how many have signed up here. It says:

That this House considers the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to be a vital and irreplaceable body of national and international importance and reputation; believes that its expertise, developed over many years of licensing and regulating assisted reproductive therapy clinics and ensuring treatment is safe, is a priceless resource which must be retained and sustained for the future; notes that its funding is derived mostly from fees and that costs would inevitably increase if its functions were to be split; further notes too that its contribution to public safety and its rigorous protection of confidentiality enjoy a high level of public confidence which could be put at risk if the HFEA is dismantled; applauds the passionate defence of the HFEA by its chair, Lisa Jardine, and recognises the widespread support for its work across the scientific and medical communities; and calls on the Government to abandon plans to abolish the HFEA.

What next?

Government proposed to change the system of regulation, including creating a single research regulator (more here). Last week, the Academy of Medical Sciences published a report suggesting how a single research regulator might look (more here). We’re now waiting for the government to respond to that report and reveal the details of how they will change the regulatory system. And, as was apparent from yesterday’s discussion, debate is raging over all the proposed changes and will continue to do so as this moves forward.

Posted in: Policy