Public Engagements: Autumn/Winter 2018-19

Robert will be speaking at the following venues and events over the coming months.  Please check the individual venue’s website to find out more details and book tickets.
Thursday, 4th October 2018, 4pm – Bath Children’s Literature Festival
From the solar system to evolution and the human body, discover how machines work, where lightening comes from and how lungs allow you to breathe. The Science Squad is made up of the five STEM subjects; Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths and the professor will explain how they work together and why they are so important.

Wednesday 17th October 2018, 7pm – Saffron Hall
Does decoding the human genome herald new opportunities for medicine or is there a darker side? Will ethics prevent us from manufacturing stronger, more gifted children? Or will our imperfect knowledge of genetics result in some major surprises? Join legendary scientist, politician and writer Robert Winston to discover more.

Monday 22nd October 2018,  7pm – Princes Theatre, Clacton on Sea
“Modifying Humans” – Talk for Clacton and North East Essex Arts Society
Researcher, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Science and Society and Fertility studies presents ‘MODIFYING HUMANS’. During his career Robert has always concentrated on advancing the understanding and interaction between scientists and the public.

Thursday 25 October 2018, 6.30pm – Sheffield Off the Shelf Festival
Join Professor Robert Winston as he explores how the world works in his new book Science Squad. The Science Squad are made up of the five STEAM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths, Robert explains how they work together, why they are so important and how they relate to the world around us. From the solar system to evolution, children will discover how machines work, where lightning comes from and more.

Tuesday 30th October 2018 – Varma Lecture, St. George’s Hospital, Tooting
“Are we sowing the see for the destruction of the human”

Monday 19 November 2018, 10.45am – Girls Schools Association Annual Conference
“Scientific Literacy”

Monday 26 November 2019 –  “Science Live” event, Manchester

Friday 30 November 2018, 10.45am – “Science Live” event – London Apollo Theatre

Thursday 10 January 2019 – Round Table event with Stuart Wright Pearson, Downing College, Cambridge
Exhibition “Halfboy” re the bio-ethics of assisted conception

Wednesday 16th January Science Live even, Birmingham

Friday 18th January 2019 –  Science Live event, London

Monday 21st January 2019 – Science Live event, Oxford

Monday 4th February 2019 – Science Live Birmingham

Thursday 7th February 2019 – Science Live Bath

Friday 8th February 2019 – Science Live London

Monday 11th February 2019 – Science Live Manchester

Wednesday 13th February 2019 – Science Live Leeds

Thursday 28th February 2019. 6.30pm – Architects for Health
The Annual Phil Cusack Talk –!event/2019/2/28/agm-2019

Professor Robert Winston on Newsnight

We are all very aware of how underfunded the NHS is. Recently, to help reduce costs, the availability of IVF treatment on the NHS has been restricted or halted in 13 areas in England creating something akin to a postcode lottery.

This move has sparked a debate about IVF, associated costs, its necessity and possible long term environmental impact.

One of the voices in this debate belongs to Sirena Bergman who wrote an article for The Independent in which she argued against IVF being offered on the NHS. Last night, she joined Professor Robert Winston and Evan Davies on Newsnight to discuss IVF, the cuts and the surrounding issues.

When Sirena suggested that adoption could potentially be a solution to IVF, to which Professor Winston replied “people who are infertile suffer hugely” and “adoption is not a treatment for fertility” for “infertility is a symptom of a disease and there are at least a hundred causes of infertility”. He also draws her attention to how different NHS Trusts cost the treatment. For some it is as little as £1000, whilst in others the costs reached £6000.

When asked by Davies whether, if he had to cut IVF services, he would cut the age threshold or the number of cycles, he responded: “I would do IVF when it is really needed. At least half of the cycles are unnecessary, that’s one of the issues. Secondly, I want to cost it properly. The work we are doing now, the research we are doing can reduce that cost and I think that’s urgently needed.”

You can still catch the debate on BBC iplayer. The topic starts at 9:00 and the debate at around 13:41 

Theatre dates: Spring/Summer 2017

Robert will be speaking at the following theatres over the coming months.  Please check the individual theatre’s website to find out more details and book tickets.

Wednesday 10 May: Langley Park Theatre, Beckenham 

Thursday 11 May: Beck Theatre, Hayes

Wednesday 17 May: Castle Theatre, Wellingborough

Thursday 18 May: Camberley Theatre

Bank Holiday Monday 29 May: Ely Cathedral

Tuesday 6 June: Harlequin Theatre, Redhill

Thursday 8 June: Corn Exchange, Newbury

Thursday 15 June: The Corn Hall, Diss

Wednesday 21 June: Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon

Thursday 22 June: Palace Theatre, Newark

Monday 10 July: Broxbourne

Why I’m ashamed of the exploitation in the IVF industry – Daily Mail article 4 May 2017

This week I feel ashamed.  This newspaper has published evidence of widespread bad practice in my own speciality of medicine, infertility treatment.

And I feel angry because the Government’s regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has been inadequate.

It has not prevented the disgraceful exploitation of patients, mostly women.

I am also depressed because, 27 years ago, we doctors promised Parliament that we would ensure the highest standards where our treatments involved human life and the treatment of embryos.

One of the latest scandals concerns so-called egg sharing.

Egg sharing is offered by some clinics with apparently laudable intentions. The clinics argue it makes treatment available to women unable afford IVF and who are ineligible for NHS treatment. The women agree to have their ovaries stimulated by drugs to produce eggs. Some of these eggs will be fertilised for their own treatment – others will be donated to other patients who cannot produce eggs. These recipients pay for their own treatment and for that of the donor.

It sounds reasonable – but in fact, it is fraught. Firstly, by regulation, the maximum number of embryos a donor can have placed in her womb is one or two. But because drug treatments usually result in the release of at least ten eggs –  and quite frequently many more – there may be many other eggs ‘left over’. This means that from a single donor’s eggs, a clinic will be able to simultaneously supply donor eggs for several patients – all of whom will be paying extra high fees for IVF treatment with egg donation.

The Mail’s investigation suggests that as many as ten recipients could benefit from one donor’s eggs, each being charged the same high fees.

This means that – for the clinics at least – persuading these women to donate their eggs can be extremely lucrative. It also means the that the clinics are incentivised to maximise the chance of getting as many eggs as possible. Therefore, they may be tempted to give the woman donating her eggs more stimulation than is strictly needed – or than is advisable from the point of view of the woman’s health. In addition, though heavier stimulation may increase the number of eggs obtained, it may also result in poorer eggs, with more chromosomal abnormalities an increased risk of miscarriage.

But the problem does not end here. While the donor’s own treatment may be unsuccessful – leaving her childless – it may well produce children for the other woman benefiting from her eggs. And although confidentiality means neither she, the donor, nor the recipient will know any details about the treatment of another patient, including if a pregnancy resulted, any child who is born can, by law, find out who their genetic mother on reaching adulthood.

It is therefore possible that, years later, a childless, grieving woman – whose own treatment has failed – can be traced and visited by a child whom she did not know she had had.

Given all this, it is simply astonishing that – caught by the Daily Mail’s camera – a professional in a clinic suggests that there is nothing for egg donors to worry about. Eggs? “they’re just cells”, she says as she shrugs her shoulders.

Another cause for concern is the increasingly fashionable idea of egg freezing. This is being sold by clinics as a way for career women to effectively put their fertility on hold.

But official figures on success rates from the HFEA are disconcerting. Between 2008 and 2014  – he dates for which full records are currently available – 3489 frozen eggs were thawed in attempts to produce a pregnancy for the patient who stored them. The records are difficult to interpret, but of those, about 77 pregnancies have occurred, with approximately 55 live births resulting from those pregnancies. That means the live birth rate per egg was 1.5%.

Even if you look only at the 589 eggs which were successfully fertilised and transported in to the womb as embryos, those 589 resulted in just  55 live births – a success rate of 9.3%.

So how does this reality compare with what patients are being told? One consultant in the Mail’s investigation is caught on camera asserting that if she freezes her eggs, her chance of pregnancy is 65%. Elsewhere, the website of one London clinic states: ‘Our egg survival rate following vitrification is very high, around 90%, which helps to increase the success of having a baby in the future.’

Most lay people would assume that, if they attend this clinic, they are close to being guaranteed a pregnancy. This seems very misleading, and the HFEA should step in.

But the HFEA does not always give full information about infertility – and there is also a lack of completely reliable information about IVF. This is precisely why we established an entirely charitable website at the Genesis Research Trust to give unbiased information.

For example, I believe that many women are undergoing IVF treatments unnecessarily. This is demonstrated by the fact that so many women get pregnant naturally after IVF has failed.

There are dozens of causes of infertility, each possibly requiring different treatment. Like chest pain, infertility is just symptom. But with chest pain you expect your doctor to do adequate tests to confirm you don’t have lung cancer, heart disease, a broken rib, bronchitis or a viral infection – or perhaps merely indigestion. But complain to your GP about infertility, and there’s every chance you will be simply shunted off to an expensive IVF clinic with little or no investigation by the GP or the clinic.

In 2014, around 45,000 patients were treated with IVF – but significantly, no cause for the infertility was found in over 18,000 of them, the HFEA reports. Some 40% had “unexplained infertility”, or were uncategorised. Clearly, many of these couples did not have had sufficient testing before IVF to ascertain the cause of their infertility. Treatment without making every attempt at a diagnosis first is thoroughly bad medicine. We are all outraged at a surgeon removing breast tissue without making a proper diagnosis, but we ignore what is happening in many infertility clinics.

When I mentioned this in a recent Radio 4 broadcast, I was joined by the fertility expert Adam Balen, who was then Chairman of the British Fertility Society, representing “good” practice across the UK.

I respect Adam who is a good doctor. But I was surprised how he downplayed my concerns. After the broadcast, a well-educated professional woman who had listened in called me.  She had been trying to have a baby for about a year, and had been referred to an IVF clinic with no testing. There, she was scheduled for IVF. She was also told to take Humira, a drug which riskily suppresses the immune system. She was given a private prescription but, worried, did not take it. Fortunately, the woman got pregnant without any further treatment.

To confirm what I had stated on the radio, I emailed Adam Balen twice, explaining how commonly I encountered this kind of malpractice.  Perhaps he did not get my emails as he didn’t respond.

The HFEA must be firmer. There are many good truthful doctors out there doing an ethical job caring properly for their patients. But women seeking fertility treatment are deeply vulnerable.  They are anxious, often depressed, and are in spiritual pain. Some feel that sex has become pointless; they cannot face their partner or friends, feel deeply guilty and will grasp any straw in forlorn hope. They are desperate.

It is our privilege as doctors to treat them properly and with respect. The avarice of just a few in this burgeoning fertility industry in something that all of us should be more ready to condemn.


Appointment of Chief Executive

The Charity

The Genesis Research Trust supports high quality research into reproductive diseases which primarily affect women. The trust is renowned for its support of work into premature birth, foetal damage and genetic defects, miscarriage and stillbirth, stem cell biology as well as pioneering research in IVF and embryo screening. It is also responsible for various postgraduate teaching activities, namely symposia on related subjects of interest. The latest initiative is to establish a new professorial chair of reproductive medicine at Imperial College.

The Candidate

Applications for a Chief Executive are invited to manage and expand a small but dedicated team of (currently 12 people), based at the Institute of Reproductive & Developmental Biology, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College Campus. The Trust wishes to raise its national and international profile, and to increase funding for the projects and doctoral studentships it has in hand. The successful candidate will have demonstrable leadership skills, a proven track record in charitable fundraising, and excellent interpersonal skills in dealing with our large donor base, staff and stakeholders. Whilst a scientific background is not essential, the successful applicant should have strong sympathy with those who suffer from reproductive and allied problems, and some understanding of academic institutions. A competitive salary is offered.


Applicants are requested to supply an up-to-date CV as well as a letter of motivation, explaining interest in and suitability for the role.

Applicants may also contact the Chairman of the Trust, Professor Lord Winston, initially by email

Theatre Dates – Autumn 2016 to Spring 2017

Robert is looking forward to speaking at theatres around the UK on the following dates:

Chesham, New Elgiva Theatre – Sunday 25th September 2016

Whitley Bay, Playhouse – Monday 26th September 2016

Beverley Festival – Wednesday 5th October 2016

Norwich Science Festival – Wednesday October 19th

Hartlepool and High Tunstall College of Science – Wednesday 2nd November

Blackburn, King George’s Hall – Wednesday 16th November

Northallerton – Thursday 1st December

Tivoli Theatre, Wimbourne, Dorset – Monday 5th December

Lincoln Drill Hall, 16th January 2017

Worcester Huntingdon Hall – 15th February

Preston – Tuesday 21st February

Swindon – Monday 6th March

Sturminster Newton – Thursday 9th March

Harlequin Theatre, Redhill – Monday 20th March

Stockton – Thursday 20th April

Colchester – Tuesday 25th April

Diss – 2nd May

Thornbury Festival – Tuesday 9th May

Langley Park Theatre, Beckenham – Wednesday 10th May



Early Years Conference 2016

Robert Winston is the keynote speaker at Early Excellence’s Early Years Conference., where he will be giving a scientific perspective to child development and learning.

The conference takes place at various locations around the country and is open to Early Years Practioners:

Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford
Thursday 17th November, 9.30am – 3.30pm

The St Johns Hotel, Solihull
Monday 28th November, 9.30am – 3.30pm

Early Excellence London Centre
Tuesday 29th November, 9.30am – 3.30pm

Early Excellence London Centre
30th November, 9.30am – 3.30pm

For more information see their website