05 May 2009
ByAppeared in BioNews 506
Following an inquiry into a series of IVF mix-ups at a top London hospital, an official has declared the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - the UK Government's fertility watchdog - 'unfit for purpose' in a letter to chief medical offer Sir Liam Donaldson, according to a report published in the Sunday Times newspaper. Professor Brian Toft, professor of patient safety at Coventry University and author of the letter, lead an investigation into an IVF blunder which took place in Leeds in 2002, in which the wrong sperm was used to create embryos for IVF couples resulting in mixed-race twins being born to white parents.
Professor Toft wrote in his letter that he believes complete reform of the HFEA is the only way to protect the 37,000 women who undergo IVF each year from further blunders. Speaking to the Sunday Times, he expressed his sympathy for the couples affected. 'I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be undergoing that kind of treatment and then for someone to say 'We haven't done the job properly and, as a consequence, you have lost your embryos'', he said, adding: 'It is just beyond belief.'
Professor Toft has written a further letter to Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, calling for an investigation into three separate incidences at London's Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in which embryos belonging to three couples had to be destroyed following the creation of embryos using sperm from the wrong father. In response to the scandals, reported elsewhere in BioNews, the clinic at Guy's and St Thomas' has plans to implement a new tagging system to track all IVF samples.
The hospital was purportedly made aware of potential flaws in its standard operating procedures liable to result in human error by an embryologist working at the trust in 2006. The problems were allegedly investigated internally and addressed at the time, however this failed to prevent the latest mistake.
In a statement issued in advance of Professor Toft's letter, the HFEA called the reports about the investigations at Guy's and St Thomas' hospital 'misleading', claiming that the trust have been active in reporting any incidents and in looking into making changes to their procedures and that all recommendations from the 2004 Toft report had been implemented. The regulator reported that Professor Toft has since been involved in updating its Code of Practice for all clinics.