HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) is the UK's independent regulator that oversees the use of gametes and embryos in fertility treatment and research. It also licenses fertility clinics and centres carrying out in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The authority presents success rates for every licensed clinic. These rates show the number of treatments carried out by the clinic and the number of pregnancies or live births that were born as a result.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (commonly shortened to HFEA) is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK. It is a statutory body that regulates and inspects all clinics across the country that provide services related to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), artificial insemination, and the storage of human eggs, sperm, or embryos. It is also the body that regulates research conducted around human embryos.

After the birth of Louise Brown, the first baby in the world conceived through IVF, in 1978, there were concerns about the implications of the new technology involved. In 1982, the UK government formed a committee, chaired by philosopher Mary Warnock, to look into the issue and see what action should be taken. Hundreds of specialist individuals, including doctors and scientists, organisations focused on health, patients, and parents, and religious groups all gave evidence to the committee.

In the years following the Warnock report, proposals were brought forward by the government in the publication of a white paper titled Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation. This was done in 1987, and not long after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was drafted, taking the report into account.

The 1990 Act allowed for the establishment of the HFEA, which became the first statutory body of its kind in the world. It came into effect on 1 August 1991 and began its work as an independent regulator for IVF treatment and human embryo research. The Act ensured the regulation, through licensing, of:

  • The creation of human embryos outside of the body and their use in treatment and research
  • The use of donated gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos
  • The storage of donated gametes and embryos

The Act also requires the HFEA to keep a database of every IVF treatment carried out, as well as a database relating to all cycles and use of donated egg and sperm cells. 

The ultimate goal of the HFEA is simple. It is to ensure that everyone who enters a fertility clinic anywhere in the UK, and every person born as a result of a treatment carried out in a fertility clinic, will receive the high-quality care they need and the respect they deserve. Their decisions are central to the way fertility clinics and research centres work across the country, and their board, known as the Authority, makes the largest decisions. Smaller, more nuanced decisions are made by panels and committees of experts with specialist knowledge in that specific area.

In the modern day, after the introduction of more recent Acts surrounding issues related to cloning (2001), donor identification (2004), quality standards (2006), and technological advances (2008), the HFEA holds the current statutory functions:

  • To licence and monitor clinics carrying out IVF and donor insemination
  • To licence and monitor establishments undertaking human embryo research
  • To maintain a register of licences held by clinics, research establishments, and storage centres
  • To regulate the storage of gametes and embryos
  • To implement the requirements of the European Union Tissue and Cells Directive (EUTCD) to relicense IVF clinics and to licence Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), and other related fertility services