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Fertility Clinic 'Used Wrong Sperm'

Clinic Used DNA From Wrong Donor In Error, Says Report


A case of a fertility clinic using the wrong sperm in IVF treatment is one of the examples provided by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in a report highlighting serious mistakes made by professionals.

The HFEA said between 2010 and 2012, one in 100 women experienced some kind of "adverse incident", although it emphasised that most would make no difference to the odds of a successful conception. A year-by-year breakdown has showed that the number of incidents has remained fairly constant at between 500 and 600 a year.

In the case of the wrong sperm, this prevented the use of DNA that would have ensured the child was genetically related to an older sibling. This led to the affected woman giving birth to an unrelated child. For legal reasons, details of the case have not been made public.

Overall, there were 1,679 of these incidents, with three in the most serious grade A category. In addition to the use of the wrong sperm, there was an instance of eggs being contaminated, while in a third case the sperm was removed from cold storage too soon.

There were also 714 grade B - where embryos were lost or equipment failures reduced their quality - and 815 Grade C errors, which included eggs being left in an unusable state or ovaries being over-stimulated to produce eggs.

HFEA spokesperson Sally Cheshire said that while any area of medicine is not guaranteed to be "error free", it is important to learn the lessons and minimise incidents.

"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,” she said.

"However, there remain too many grade C mistakes, such as breaches of confidentiality."

"As patients have often told us, these mistakes may be less serious at first glance but they can still be very upsetting. Clinics can and should be eradicating these sorts of avoidable errors."

There are around 60,000 IVF treatments in the UK each year, based on the most recent HFEA figures, for 2011-12. This has risen steadily in the past two decades, with just 14,057 women treated in 1992.

Expert Opinion
IVF is not an area of healthcare where unavoidable risks can arise as a consequence of medical treatment.

“IVF is an area of treatment where systems are in place to ensure mistakes do not occur. When mistakes do occur it is generally as a consequence of a systems failure or by staff failing to follow those systems.

“Either way these mistakes are avoidable and the consequences devastating for the patients involved.

“We are pleased to see that the HFEA intends to learn lessons from the mistakes made between 2010 and 2012, however the patients affected deserve accountability, transparency and reassurance that any errors are treated extremely seriously, rather than being faced with an attitude of ‘mistakes can happen’.”
Sara Burns, Partner

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