A £3.4m surplus run up by the body responsible for regulating fertility treatment could pay for up to 850 in vitro fertilisation cycles if returned to providers, it has been claimed.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has built up the funds, equivalent to about 50 per cent of its annual budget, from the £75 fee it charges on every fertility treatment.

The HFEA told HSJ the surplus had arisen over “recent years” due to “prudent” budgeting which allowed for a fall in IVF treatment as a result of primary care trust spending restrictions. However, the anticipated reduction never materialised, with many couples opting to pay for treatment privately.

In total 75 per cent of the authority’s budget comes from fees while the rest is supplied by a Department of Health grant. In October the HFEA cut the fees by 28 per cent. However, British Fertility Society chair Alan Pacey called for it to go further and return 75 per cent of the surplus to providers.

“The NHS claims that it can’t fund IVF a lot of the time and therefore patients are having to pay privately. That money could help hundreds of people have treatment. It sounds like it’s time to give a bit back – it should definitely not go back to the DH.” Dr Pacey said. He believes three quarters of the £3.4m could pay for 850 IVF cycles.

However, an HFEA spokeswoman said it had previously been agreed with the DH that money would not be returned to clinics due to the complexity involved with determining whether it should be allocated to the clinic or the patient.

The HFEA has developed a plan to spend the money on improving how the organisation operates over the next two to three years but this has been rejected by the government.

Asked what would happen to the overspend, a DH spokeswoman said: “Through the annual business planning process we are having ongoing discussions with the HFEA to ensure that its future spending and revenue deliver the most efficient and effective service for patients and those who are regulated.”

The Human Tissue Authority, which is funded in a similar way through fees from organisations that use human tissue for purposes such as research, is forecasting a year end surplus of 14 per cent of its budget. It plans to credit the funds back to providers.