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HFEA rebuked by medical risk expert

5 May 2009
Appeared 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.

HFEA statement regarding misleading reports about the investigations at Guy's hospital
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority |  1 May 2009
IVF watchdog is 'not fit for purpose'
The Times |  3 May 2009
21 November 2016 - by Rikita Patel 
A number of Australian IVF clinics are potentially misleading patients about their success rates, a consumer watchdog has warned...
4 May 2010 - by Seil Collins 
The number of reported mistakes at IVF centres in England and Wales has doubled over one year, rising from 182 in 2007/08 to 334 in 2008/09. Incidents range from technical failures to serious mix-ups. Cases where embryos have been lost, implanted into the wrong patient, or fertilised with the wrong sperm have all been reported....
14 December 2009 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
The UK's fertility industry regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is poised to report back this week on embryo mix-ups at Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London. According to The Sun and Independent newspapers, a HFEA licence committee was due to meet today to review the findings of an investigation into what went wrong at the hospital and how to prevent a repeat incident. The hospital came under scrutiny after the embryos of three women were destr...
28 September 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
A woman from the US has given birth to another couple's baby after being implanted with the wrong embryo during her IVF treatment. Caroline Savage and her husband, Sean found out about the mistake when the clinic rang Mr Savage in February. But rather than abort the pregnancy, as the clinic suggested, the couple have elected to give the child back to its biological parents after the birth....
1 June 2009 - by Professor Alison Murdoch 
The HFEA is 'not fit for purpose' - so says Professor Toft who investigated the Authority closely following a previous laboratory error. The HFEA should not be surprised if, having established itself as the protector of patients and laboratory standards, it is challenged when an error occurs. Realistically though, zero risk...
3 May 2009 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
Three couples undergoing IVF treatment at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, London, have had to have their embryos destroyed after the clinic used sperm from the wrong donor to fertilise the eggs. A spokesman for the clinic said that 'We identified potential problems with the eggs and...
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