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UK fertility watchdog report on embryo mix-ups due

14 December 2009
Appeared in BioNews 538

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 destroyed in February because they were created from the wrong man's sperm.

Poor laboratory practices and failure to follow witnessing rules were blamed for the failures, according to documents obtained by the newspapers under the Freedom of Information Act. Staff allowed 'two semen samples to be processed simultaneously' and there was 'no adherence to all witnessing steps during processing'. 'Double witnessing' - two people signing off - laboratory procedures like placing an embryo in a freezer, was made compulsory following similar mistakes at a Leeds hospital in 2002 and a subsequent independent inquiry.

Last week, a government report on the HFEA's performance found that there was 'room for improvement'. A further blow comes from the newspaper reports saying that despite the fact that previous HFEA inspections had revealed problems with double-witnessing and lab procedures at Guys and St Thomas', the regulator had failed to take sanctions.

The HFEA has responded to the newspaper criticisms on its website.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Incident at Guy's: the Facts
HFEA |  14 December 2009
IVF blunders kept secret
The Sun |  10 December 2009
'Scores of fertility clinics may risk patient safety'
The Independent |  13 December 2009
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