'Scores of fertility clinics may risk patient safety'

After three embryos had to be destroyed, an investigation finds that mandatory witnessing procedures were not followed

The Government's fertility watchdog put patients at risk by failing to intervene in a London hospital at the heart of a series of embryo mix-ups earlier this year, a patient safety expert has claimed.

On the eve of a report into fertility treatment blunders at Guy's and St Thomas' hospital, Professor Brian Toft, a patient safety expert at Coventry University, said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) had "failed" in its duties and warned that scores of other fertility clinics could also be taking risks.

The criticisms come just one week after an official review lambasted the watchdog for not using its "full range of sanctions" to clamp down on badly run fertility centres.

Professor Brian Toft, who conducted an official inquiry into a blunder in 2002 that saw black twins born to a white couple in Leeds, yesterday said the watchdog's failure to punish the hospital for those errors had increased the chance of similar mistakes at other clinics.

Embryos belonging to three couples had to be destroyed and their cycles of treatment jettisoned after the errors were uncovered at Guy's and St Thomas' hospital in February.

According to documents seen by The Independent on Sunday, an internal investigation at the hospital blamed failure to follow mandatory witnessing procedures and poor laboratory practices for the mistakes.

The HFEA, which regulates the UK's 117 IVF centres, has yet to take any sanctions against the hospital. A licence committee is expected to meet tomorrow to review an investigation into what went wrong, but it could be weeks before it publishes its findings.

"It beggars belief that people are not following mandatory procedures," said Professor Toft. "The HFEA should have acted immediately to put conditions on the licence to make sure [other clinics] understood it was a very serious matter and they would be held to account if any future incidents occurred... So much time has gone by now that there is no point putting any sanctions on [Guy's and St Thomas']."

He said the watchdog "should have sanctioned the hospital immediately... putting a very severe cap on the number of patients it was allowed to treat", or got rid of the head of the assisted conception unit, Yacoub Khalaf.

Professor Toft, who believes the HFEA is "not fit for purpose", asked the Government to investigate the watchdog's failure. But he said yesterday that his concerns had been brushed aside. "I was told Parliament couldn't do anything because the HFEA is an arm's length body," he said.

The hospital's investigation found that the embryo mix-ups were caused by staff allowing "two semen samples to be processed simultaneously". It said there had been "none [sic] adherence to all witnessing steps during processing". So-called "double witnessing" of every lab procedure, such as changing a Petri dish or placing an embryo in a freezer, was made mandatory on Professor Toft's advice after the Leeds error.

Previous HFEA inspections had found that the Guy's and St Thomas' unit had a history of failings on double witnessing and lab procedures, yet the regulator has never taken sanctions against the hospital.

One error at Guy's and St Thomas' came to light when the embryologist realised she had used a sample from the wrong man to fertilise a patient's eggs. Another was discovered when scientists testing for hereditary diseases found genes showing an embryo could not belong to the people believed to be its parents.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

    £16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

    Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high