In Vitro Fertilisation
An embryologist carries-out a sample preparation process at Fortis Bloom Fertility and IVF Centre inside the Fortis hospital at Mohali in the northern Indian state of Punjab, June 13, 2013. A looming crisis in Asia as women delay giving birth, leading to low fertility rates that have dire implications for economic growth, is opening huge opportunities for the fast-growing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) industry. India is currently dominated by Fortis Bloom Fertility and IN PHOTO: IVF Centre, part of the country's No.2 hospital chain Fortis Healthcare Ltd, and a joint venture with Spain's IVI Max Reproductive Medicine and part of healthcare group Max India Ltd. Reuters/Ajay Verma

Women are at higher risk of health complications in bulk-billed in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics, a body of IVF doctors have warned, after Primary IVF, the only bulk-billed clinic in Australia, opened in Melbourne on Monday.

Most high-end clinics offering IVF treatments commonly cost patients up to $15,000, but the newly opened clinic in Preston will offer treatments for free. Primary IVF has been operating in Sydney since 2014.

Supporters of the new clinic say that it offers women the chance to have children, especially those who can not afford IVF treatments in other clinics.

However, critics have raised concerns over the low cost service of the clinic, saying this may mean the delivery of less expertise, lower success rates and more health risks. In addition, low-cost clinics may be treating women more aggressively compared to high-end clinics, according to practising IVF doctor Michael Chapman, head of the Fertility Association of Australia.

"[Primary IVF] has been running for 12 months in Sydney, there have been complications - we have treated patients with hyperstimulation from that clinic and obviously we have concerns," Chapman told the ABC.

He added that cheaper clinics may be pointing women straight to IVF despite other available effective treatments.

"Controlling IVF and limiting it to the people who actually need it is very important and that selection of patients is something I have concerns about in the Primary model,” Chapman said.

A Primary IVF spokesperson stated that their patients have access to highly qualified IVF specialists who work with their GPs to ensure they get "the best advice and the strongest clinical outcomes."

"Our GPs play a key role in ensuring our patients are healthy and ready for the IVF process before they speak to an IVF specialist, and will provide support and guidance if patients are not yet ready or if IVF is not the most appropriate treatment for the couple."

Australia, along with New Zealand, is a world leader in providing safe IVF practice, according to a report by the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit at UNSW Australia. Nearly 12,300 babies were born in 2012 through the treatment, accounting about 3.8 percent of all births in the country.

However, doctors fear a rise in cases of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) in women who seek IVF, which could lead to death or complications in the newborn baby. The condition occurs when a patient’s body negatively reacts to the drugs provided to stimulate egg growth.

Despite this fear, it’s too early to claim OHSS as a trend, Chapman said. Many IVF doctors claim that clinics with good practices have successfully prevented OHSS in patients in the previous years, the ABC reported.

Primary IVF claims that the clinic does not have an “excessive amount of OHSS” upon providing treatments. The low-cost clinic said that they follow modern IVF protocols of giving low-dose, short-stimulation cycles.

"We offer the highest quality of care and clinical practices, and have helped close to 100 Australian couples have a successful birth,” Primary IVF said. “The fundamental difference with our service is that we're not burdening Australian families with thousands of dollars of cost."

No data was presented by the IVF clinic for its success rates.

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