Saturday 16 December 2017

IVF couple ‘numb’ at blunder that saw all their eggs destroyed

Antony Stone

A COUPLE were left devastated after experts at an IVF clinic destroyed an entire supply of eggs on the same day they were donated.

The shattering news was broken to the couple over the phone on the evening they returned from the clinic in high spirits.

Now they are calling for urgent action to ensure others do not suffer the sort of heartache they have had to endure.

Their loss is just the latest in a series of errors at IVF Wales, in Cardiff, south Wales.

Earlier this month the clinic came under fire for mistakenly destroying sperm donated by cancer patients about to undergo treatment.

News of the mistake only emerged in a report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates IVF centres in the UK.

The watchdog's report said it was "extremely concerned" by the errors at the clinic this year.

It now emerges that among the victims were Chris, 35, and Lorraine, 34, from Barry, south Wales.

They have decided to go public as part of their own quest for answers.

The couple, who do not want to disclose their full identities, have also begun legal proceedings with the same goal in mind.

Lorraine and Chris turned to IVF after trying to start a family without success for seven years.

They went through a cycle of IVF in 2007 when Lorraine produced two eggs, one of which showed low fertility and the other failed to fertilise.

Care worker Lorraine turned to her sister for help after advice, and she agreed to donate eggs herself.

They were thrilled in February this year when 10 eggs donated by Lorraine's sister were described by consultants as "of exceptional quality".

But within hours they received a call from IVF Wales telling them of their destruction in what was described as a "mechanical error".

Both Chris and Lorraine, her sister, and their parents were all summoned to a meeting at the clinic that evening.

They then listened in disbelief as they were told a pipette containing all 10 eggs had hit a microscope during a transfer to a dish. All were destroyed in the accident.

"I was left numb by what happened and couldn't really take in what I was being told at the time," Lorraine said today.

"I know it was the same for Chris. All I could think of at the time was 'you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket'.

"As I listened I just felt numb as though I wasn't in my own body any more. If my mum and dad hadn't been there I wouldn't know what was said."

IVF expert Guy Forster from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, today confirmed that the couple have now begun legal proceedings.

He said the couple hoped that by speaking out, regulators would ensure action was taken to prevent others suffering as a result of the clinic's blunders.

"These precious eggs, which had been donated by Lorraine's sister, having undergone weeks of hormone therapy and invasive procedures, were destroyed in a split second," Mr Forster said.

"Whilst human error cannot be eradicated, proper care and adequate safeguards could have stopped this most rudimentary error from happening.

"It is therefore vital that a thorough investigation now takes place and that the clinic ensures that lessons are finally learnt to safeguard future patient welfare."

IVF Wales is based in Cardiff and hosted by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

The troubled clinic hit the headlines in 2009 when Irwin Mitchell secured a five-figure settlement against the trust on behalf of another couple whose last viable embryo was transferred to the wrong patient.

Mr Forster said today that he was concerned that lessons did not appear to have been learned from past mistakes.

"It is extraordinary that a clinic can have such a lackadaisical approach to quality and risk management but it is perhaps even more concerning that this has been allowed to carry on despite numerous serious incidents.

"Although the clinic must take its share of the blame for the catalogue of errors in recent years, I am greatly concerned that the HFEA - which as the official regulator exists both to police the industry and ensure best practice - appears to have been largely ineffective in reducing rudimentary errors and improving standards at this particular clinic."

He added: "Following the Government's announcement that it intends to abolish quangos such as the HFEA, it is intended that ultimately much of the responsibility for regulating the fertility sector will pass to the Care Quality Commission.

"When the time comes, we hope the CQC will take the initiative to improve the way in which the HFEA has been regulating the sector."

Dr Graham Shortland, medical director for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board which hosts IVF Wales, said: "As those involved have instigated legal proceedings against IVF Wales, we are unable to comment in detail on this case.

"However, we would like to make clear that all clinical incidents are reported robustly, in line with HFEA requirements. Patients are offered support throughout the process, investigations are rigorous and there are systems in place to ensure lessons are learned.

"It is disappointing that the legal firm representing the couple has chosen to invoke the media while the legal process remains in train, thus hampering the UHB's ability to comment in any detail."

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