Judge Criticises ‘Alarming And Shocking’ Failings Within Fertility Industry

Parents Faced Battle To Confirm Legal Parentage Of Children Due To ‘Widespread Incompetence’

15.09.2015

Medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have expressed concerns over the ‘widespread incompetence’ in the UK fertility sector highlighted by a judge.

Sir James Munby was ruling in the family division of the High Court on the case of seven couples who were battling to establish legal declaration they were the parents of their offspring after using sperm donors to conceive their children.

The couples had launched legal action after it emerged that consent forms, which are signed by unmarried couples or those in a civil partnership to ensure legal parentage before treatment begins, had not been properly completed by the clinics involved.

The judge granted legal declarations of parentage to the couples in the case and noted that failures in the system had forced couples to take legal action.

He said many couples were suffering these problems due to a series of failures within the fertility industry. Sir James highlighted a 2013 audit of the 109 fertility clinics in the UK which found 51 paperwork “anomalies” in clinical records that could cast doubt on the legal status of parents.

When handing down the ruling he said: “The picture revealed is one of what I do not shrink from describing as widespread incompetence across the sector on a scale which must raise questions as to the adequacy if not of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s regulation then of the extent of its regulatory powers.”

Guy Forster, a Partner and medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell, who has represented couples following errors in fertility treatment, said:

Expert Opinion
This latest case illustrates the ongoing problems within the fertility sector in the UK. Through our work representing patients of clinics, we continue to see similar types of errors occurring including laboratory mistakes, errors with clinical decisions and administrative failures. It is deeply concerning that seemingly lessons are not being learned.

"We have long held concerns as to the ability of the regulator and the clinics themselves to stamp out poor practice and learn from errors. Mistakes can cause unimaginable heartache and anguish to couples and it is vital these issues are addressed to prevent similar situations in the future.
Guy Forster, Partner