Parents are reassured over embryo mix-up

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Britain's fertility watchdog said yesterday that no babies had been born to the wrong mothers as a result of embryos being lost at two fertility clinics in Hampshire.

Britain's fertility watchdog said yesterday that no babies had been born to the wrong mothers as a result of embryos being lost at two fertility clinics in Hampshire.

Fewer than five babies had been born in the last three years using frozen embryos from the clinics and all of them were genetically "identifiable" as their parents' offspring, a spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said.

Fears that the wrong embryos could have been used arose when frozen embryos at the Hampshire Clinic in Basingstoke and the North Hampshire Hospital were found to be missing. An inspector from the HFEA was sent to the clinics to do an internal audit last week.

An spokesman from the watchdog said: "There are very strict labelling procedures for carrying out an implantation of frozen embryos, which are cross-checked several times before they are implanted. Because some embryos cannot be found, it does not mean they have been used. This has almost certainly not happened."

An investigation has also been launched by the North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which said it was also looking at the possibility of "financial irregularities".

A statement released by the trust today said: "As a result of an issue relating to the recording and storage of frozen embryos, first discovered at the Hampshire Clinic in Basingstoke, the trust is in the process of undertaking a full investigation which will be completed as soon as possible.

"Any question of financial irregularities will also be addressed by this investigation."

The missing embryos are said to have come from 10 patients at the hospital and a further 29 at the Hampshire Clinic.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, has ordered Professor Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer to prepare an urgent report on the missing embryos. The embryologist Paul Fielding, from Whitchurch, in Hampshire, has been suspended until the investigation is complete.

Mark Davies, the chief executive of North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "We recognise this is a very distressing situation and have had a confidential helpline open since Saturday morning."

He added that the trust was working with ISSUE, a national patients fertility association, which has provided counsellors to talk to patients having fertility treatment about the scare. Dozens of women have contacted the helpline; some fearing their babies are not their biological children, others fearing their embryos have been implanted in other women.

Mothers treated at the two centres are to be offered DNA tests to prove their babies are their own, and some women have been told they must start their fertility treatment again.

Carole Friend, of the Hampshire Clinic, said: "We are categorical that nobody has been made pregnant by other patients' embryos. We are 100 per cent sure on that." The North Hampshire hospital has not had a licence to transplant frozen embryos since 1998.

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