One of Britain's richest and most outspoken fertility specialists is facing a charge of serious professional misconduct over claims that he botched a patient's treatment and flouted professional guidelines.
Ian Craft, director of the London Fertility Centre, who is reputed to earn £2.5m a year, is to appear before the General Medical Council in the new year charged with placing eggs and sperm in the wrong fallopian tube of a patient.
He is also accused of replacing up to a dozen eggs in the woman – ignoring regulations limiting the number of eggs that can be used to three to protect women from the risk of a multiple birth.
If found guilty, he could be struck off the medical register and his clinic licence to provide in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) could be withdrawn.
Mr Craft has spent most of his professional life jousting with regulators over what he has seen as unreasonable restrictions on his efforts to help infertile couples. But this is the first time he has faced a full GMC hearing.
Last year, his clinic treated 648 patients, each paying £3,000 to £5,000 for a cycle of treatment. He recently helped a 56-year-old teacher give birth to twins and four years ago he treated 60-year-old Liz Buttle, who became the oldest woman in Britain to give birth. Both those cases sparked widespread criticism but it stopped short of disciplinary action.
The complaint against him that has triggered GMC action arose over the case of a woman, believed to be in her 40s, who had IVF at the clinic earlier this year. It is understood the woman had previously had an ectopic pregnancy that had damaged one of her fallopian tubes. She was treated using the Gift (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) method, which involves taking eggs from the woman, mixing them with sperm from the man and replacing them immediately to fertilise in the fallopian tube.
Mr Craft is accused of replacing the eggs and sperm in the damaged fallopian tube instead of the healthy one, and of replacing up to a dozen eggs instead of the regulation three.
The limit of three eggs (recently reduced to two) was set by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, which licenses IVF clinics in Britain, after research showed that replacing more eggs did not increase the chances of success but did increase the risk of a multiple birth, which imposed heavy financial and emotional pressures on parents. The limit was introduced to protect parents from these risks. However, the authority does not have the power to regulate Gift treatment where a woman's own eggs are used, owing to a legal oversight when it was established by Parliament. Its code of practice nevertheless makes clear that replacing a large number of eggs is considered to be needlessly risky.
A spokesman for the authority said: "Someone replacing 11 eggs would clearly be going against best practice."
Mr Craft has spoken out in the past against the limit, arguing that in some circumstances increasing the number of eggs replaced could increase the chances of success. He is expected to expand this argument when he appears before the GMC and is also likely to defend the placing of the eggs and sperm in the damaged fallopian tube.
Since a functioning fallopian tube is not necessary in IVF, as the eggs are taken directly from the ovary and replaced in the tube, he is expected to argue that it was immaterial which fallopian tube was used.
A spokesman for the London Fertility Centre said Mr Craft was making no comment on the case. The GMC and the HFEA also declined to comment.Reuse content