Patients at a fertility clinic have been left without access to their medical files, and some out of pocket by several thousand euro, after it shut its doors suddenly without notice.
Emergency measures kicked into place, with sperm and embryos safely transferred to another facility after the Kilkenny Clinic Ltd – which offered IVF treatment and freezing services – closed on January 13.
The clinic states it has shut due to the serious ill health of its owner and operator, Dr Martine Millett-Johnston.
It is understood 10 staff were made redundant, while piles of letters remain unopened in the hallway of the closed building.
One patient told the Irish Independent that he and his partner were now looking to try and recoup €4,000 they had paid the clinic for IVF treatment that had been cancelled for medical reasons.
"I just can't understand how a business like this can close like someone just selling carpets. We are under huge stress. It is very private and people are struggling," the man said.
A number of patients claim they are owed substantial amounts of money.
The Irish Medicines Board, which licensed the Kilkenny Clinic as a tissue establishment, confirmed it was recently notified by the clinic of its intention "to cease trading with immediate effect". It said patients were being notified.
Martina Kelly, of Clane Fertility Clinic, Co Kildare, reassured patients that the frozen sperm and embryos have now been safely transferred to their facility, which was listed as the emergency storage facility. "We were contacted to say they were closing," Ms Kelly told the Irish Independent. "We are acting as long-term storage for all of Dr Millett-Johnston's tissues and they have been entered safely into our quality system."
The Clane clinic has worked to contact 200 of Dr Millett-Johnston's patients to inform them of the transfer and talk about their options.
The message on the voicemail of the Kilkenny clinic's closed offices tells patients to contact ReproMed, a fertility centre in Kilkenny, if they "need a fertility follow-up or seek advice".
"Arrangements are being made for the safe storage of all patient records; further details will be given on clinic voicemail shortly," it states.
Dr Claire Moran, of ReproMed, which was set up in Kilkenny in 2009, has already been contacted by more than 100 patients seeking advice since the closure. She told how they have been unable to get patients' files from the clinic to date.
"The Kilkenny Clinic closed suddenly on the 13th and it was the first we knew about it. We worked to facilitate their patients in as much as we possibly could so they wouldn't be stuck," she said, adding they have been able to get key blood test results from the private firms that were carrying them out.
"I have not been able to get in contact with the owner who is very ill in hospital," Dr Moran said. "She had a good clinic and it was well regarded."
Helen Browne, co-founder of the National Infertility Support and Information Group, said patients had contacted her upset about the closure.
"For the people who have paid, it is very sad," Ms Browne said. "This is absolutely devastating as it is a lot of money and it takes a lot of effort to save for it as well.
"It is devastating and I don't know what the outcome of that is going to be," she said.
Ms Browne highlighted the sudden closure as one of the reasons the Government needs to act urgently to regulate fertility clinics.
According to the Companies Registration Office, the firm continues to trade, with the latest accounts recording a deficit of €178,000 for the year ended on March 31, 2012.