18 January 2010
Appeared in BioNews 541The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is conducting an internal investigation into its own failings when investigating Mohamed Taranissi, the 'person responsible' for the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC), London, in 2007 concerning allegations that he was operating without a licence, The Times newspaper has reported.
Just hours before a BBC Panorama documentary about Mr Taranissi was screened, the HFEA conducted unannounced inspections at two of Mr Taranissi's clinics in London, which a High Court later ruling later declared unlawful. Following the documentary, broadcast in January 2007, Mr Taranissi brought a libel action against the BBC, claiming that allegations made in the programme that he offered unnecessary and unproven treatment to an undercover reporter were 'biased and irresponsible', reports The Times. The action was settled out of court leaving the BBC with an estimated legal bill of over £1 million. Faced with a judicial review, the HFEA dropped all allegations against Mr Taranissi in 2008 and removed its ban on him acting as the 'personal responsible' for the ARGC clinic. It had also referred its concerns over Mr Taranissi's conduct to the General Medical Council and the police, yet the GMC struck out the claims and the police decided not to prosecute.
Mr Taranissi has maintained that he was a victim of a 'witch hunt' and the motivation of the HFEA has been questioned by the interim chief executive, Alan Doran, in an internal document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reports The Times. 'I can see in each individual case there were grounds for action. I also believe that those concerned acted in good faith,' said Mr Doran. 'Yet it is hard to review this list without a faint thought that taken together they could be seen to be a concerted attempt to challenge [Mohamed Taranissi's] right to practice,' he added.
According to the newspaper, Mr Doran has admitted that the HFEA went 'badly wrong'. He said that the Authority must ask itself why its performance had been so 'poor' and how to prevent such 'misconceived interventions' in the future. The memo said: '…something clearly has gone wrong - badly wrong over a sustained length of time'. Mr Doran also acknowledged that the HFEA was 'misled by its enthusiasm; at worst we colluded' with Panorama.
Despite Mr Doran's calls for an independent inquiry, The Times says that the HFEA has set up an internal investigation into the matter which is due to report in spring. Mr Taranissi has expressed dismay that an independent inquiry has not been ordered. 'An internal inquiry is definitely not good enough. Even the chief executive said it shouldn't be like that. They have never contacted me to ask for my side of what went on. There should be an independent inquiry,' he said. Questions have also been raised in Parliament by Liberal Democrat spokesman, Dr Evan Harris, who has accused the HFEA of improper conduct in pursuing Mr Taranassi.