An official review of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has commended the fertility watchdog in some areas, but warned that there is 'room for improvement'.
The Hampton Review Report, published on 3 December, examined whether the HFEA was fulfilling principles for better regulation set out in Sir Philip Hampton's 2005 report.
Newspaper coverage of the report focused on the HFEA's failings. The HFEA was found to be too close to the clinics it regulates, putting its 'independence, objectivity and consistency' and patients at risk, according to the Independent newspaper.
The review team from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Better Regulation Executive said that the HFEA needs to make more unannounced inspections of clinics, according to the Independent. When there are breaches of guidelines, it needs to use the 'full range of sanctions' available to it. The report also condemned the HFEA's 'slow responses' and 'lack of transparency', according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Both articles quoted Guy Forster, a medical negligence lawyer, who has acted for several couples faced with fertility treatment blunders. One couple had their last embryo implanted in the wrong woman. Mr Forster told the Independent that HFEA inspectors had found problems at IVF Wales before this mix-up, but no action was taken. He told the Telegraph: 'The report is very critical, it clearly says the inspections are not rigorous enough and the inspectors have no powers to take immediate action when they find a problem.'
He told the Independent that if the watchdog took a 'much firmer line with clinics [where there has been a problem], then other clinics would be much more likely to pay attention to the importance of risk management'.
Alan Doran, Chief Executive of the HFEA, said in a media statement: 'We are pleased that the review team found areas of our work to commend. We accept that there are areas for improvement, some of which we have already started work on.' He added: 'We are introducing a new risk based compliance cycle which will roll out over the next few months. We have streamlined our licensing process by introducing an executive licensing panel to approve straightforward licence applications', he said. 'We will look at what further areas for improvements there might be at our meeting in January'.