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HFEA: More than 1,600 fertility clinic mistakes in three years

14 July 2014
Appeared in BioNews 762

Hundreds of adverse events occur in UK fertility clinics each year, according to a report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

The report shows that 1,679 mistakes were made in UK fertility clinics between 2010 and 2012. This figure adds up to an average of 500 to 600 incidents per year out of the 60,000 IVF cycles conducted annually.

Among the mistakes were three grade A incidents, the most serious adverse incidents. One such incident was a mix-up involving sperm samples. The family who sought IVF treatment intended to use donor sperm to have a genetically related sibling. Instead, they were given sperm from a different donor, resulting in the child having a different genetic father to their sibling.

Another grade A incident concerned the contamination of the embryos of 11 patients with 'cellular debris', possibly sperm. The third grade A incident occurred when a member of staff removed frozen sperm from storage prematurely.

There were also 714 grade B incidents, which includes loss of embryos and cases where the quality of the patient's embryo has been affected by malfunctioning equipment. 815 grade C incidents were reported, mostly involving processing mistakes that cause patients' eggs to be unusable.

Over half of all incidents reported were categorised as clinical, the majority of which involved either incidences of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or a failure to follow clinical protocols set out by the HFEA's Code of Practice.

Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, said: 'We are committed to ensuring that clinics provide the safest and highest quality service to their patients. These results show that, in the main, clinics are doing a good job of minimising the number of serious errors, and this should be welcomed'.

However, Cheshire also noted the high number of grade C incidents such as breaches of confidentiality: 'Clinics can and should be eradicating these sorts of avoidable errors, which will go a long way towards reducing patient distress and improving the overall experience of IVF treatment'.

'These mistakes may be less serious at first glance but they can still be very upsetting', she added.

'While we do what we can to ensure IVF is error free, mistakes do sometimes happen, as they do in any area of medicine. What's most important is learning the lessons from errors made to minimise the chance of their happening again – this is not about naming and shaming'.

Adverse incidents in fertility clinics: lessons to learn (pdf)
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority |  14 July 2014
Fertility clinic 'used wrong sperm'
BBC News |  8 July 2014
HFEA publishes report on adverse incidents in fertility clinics
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (press release) |  8 July 2014
IVF blunders result in child born from wrong sperm
Daily Telegraph |  8 July 2014
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