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Fertility doctor's libel trial success

23 June 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 213

Dr Geeta Nargund, former director of the Diana, Princess of Wales Centre for Reproductive Medicine at St George's Hospital in London, has won the libel proceedings she issued in London's High Court against St George's Healthcare NHS Trust. It is reported that she has accepted an 'undisclosed' sum in damages, thought to be five-figured, and a public apology from the Trust over suggestions that she was responsible for mistakes in the treatment of patients at the IVF clinic, particularly within interviews given at the time by Professor Paul Jones, the Trust's medical director.

Nargund was suspended from the unit in October 2002, following the revelation that three women had had the wrong embryos implanted into them during IVF treatment at the clinic in April 2002. One woman had only her poorer quality embryos transferred into her womb, while her best quality embryos were accidentally transferred to a second woman. The second woman's embryos were implanted into a third woman. Doctors at the clinic realised the mistake soon after it had happened and the two women with unrelated embryos were recalled to the unit to undergo procedures to prevent the embryos implanting in their wombs. The error was reported to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government body charged with regulating and licensing the providers of fertility treatments.

At the time, Dr Nargund's supporters claimed she was suspended because of her decision to report the mistakes to the HFEA and because she was outspoken about the hospital management. The hospital refused to say why she was suspended, later saying that it was for 'non-clinical matters'. The IVF unit has since closed. She sought compensation for 'unfounded and unjustified' allegations made about the way she ran the unit, claiming damages because her reputation was 'in tatters'.

After the verdict, she said 'my professional reputation has been restored. I have been vindicated and I have received a substantial sum in damages'. 'I am however greatly saddened at the huge sum of public money that has been wasted over this libel action that should have been used to treat patients in the NHS', she added. She has called on the new health secretary, John Reid, to launch an investigation to determine how St George's Hospital NHS Trust could have allowed the libel to take place, as it has now cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds: 'I want John Reid to really look at what went on here. We need to find out how this could have happened', she said. Dr Nargund also criticised the fact that she had been suspended on full pay since last October, despite no doubt ever having been cast on her clinical or academic ability.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Apology for IVF doctor
BBC News Online |  19 June 2003
Consultant's libel win after IVF error
The Guardian |  20 June 2003
Fertility pioneer wins libel award
The London Evening Standard |  19 June 2003
IVF mix up doctor's 'reputation restored'
The Daily Telegraph |  20 June 2003
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