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New storage guidelines issued for UK fertility clinics

9 June 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 262

New guidelines have been issued in the UK to protect frozen spermeggs and embryos stored in fertility clinics from being accidentally destroyed. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government body which licenses and monitors fertility clinics, said that it decided to implement the new storage rules after a number of incidents in which patients' stored material accidentally thawed, because of equipment failure or inadequate temperature controls.

Last year, frozen sperm samples of 28 male cancer patients at Bristol's Southmead hospital were lost because of a refrigeration fault. Similarly, in 2001, a freezer malfunction occurred at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, also leading to the destruction of some sperm samples. Last year, the HFEA established a pilot 'incident alert system' to run for six months, where each clinic had a designated 'Person Responsible' to check equipment and procedures and take action to avoid mistakes. At the time, the HFEA estimated that there were an average of about five incidents reported by fertility clinics per month, most relating to equipment failure or breaches of protocol which caused serious concern, but no actual harm.

Under the new HFEA guidelines, all fertility clinics storing frozen sperm, eggs and embryos must have an alarm and monitoring system fitted to storage containers by the end of June 2005. The alarm will be designed to automatically alert staff at home if problems occur outside working hours. Emergency procedures will also be put in place in case of power-cuts or temperature problems, along with a staff 'on-call' system. The HFEA also said that samples from patients having medical treatment that can leave them infertile should be divided and stored in different containers, in order to provide a back-up in the case of failure in one of them.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, said that the HFEA has 'to make sure we take every step possible to safeguard stored material in clinics', adding that 'for cancer patients in particular, this material is so precious because it can be their only chance of having children'. She continued: 'Patient safety is our top priority at the HFEA and we work constantly with infertility clinics to improve it'.

New Guidelines to Protect Frozen Sperm, Embryos
Reuters |  8 June 2004
New rules to protect frozen sperm, eggs and embryos
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority |  8 June 2004
Rules to safeguard IVF samples
BBC News Online |  8 June 2004
Safeguards for Frozen Sperm and Eggs Strengthened
The Scotsman |  8 June 2004
21 November 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Apologies have been issued by a Welsh IVF clinic following the accidental destruction of three patients' sperm samples. The samples, known as straws, were collected from patients undergoing treatments for blood disorders and cancer that may affect their fertility. An investigation is underway as to why no senior staff were informed when the samples were destroyed in March this year...
14 August 2003 - by BioNews 
A group of male cancer patients whose stored sperm samples were lost following a refrigeration fault at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, UK, are now seeking compensation. Sperm from 28 patients, taken before the men underwent cancer treatment that was likely to make them infertile, was lost after a long-term frozen...
21 July 2003 - by BioNews 
A refrigeration fault at the fertility clinic at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, UK, has meant that frozen sperm samples from 28 cancer patients have been lost. The samples had all been taken during the past year, before the men underwent cancer treatment that was likely to make them infertile. All 28...
9 June 2003 - by BioNews 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has established a new procedure for fertility clinics to report mistakes. The principal tasks of the authority are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination (DI) and human embryo research. It also regulates the storage...
18 March 2002 - by BioNews 
A hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, has warned that sperm samples stored for nearly 300 of its cancer patients may have been damaged by a faulty freezer. The sperm samples had been stored at the Western General Hospital because of the risk that cancer treatments might damage the men's fertility. It...
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