The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches welcomes the recent publication of an alert by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and an action plan for clinic staff following several incidents in which embryos were removed from storage in error and allowed to perish.
Themes recognised within these reported incidents include standard operating procedures not being followed; inadequate checks carried out prior to removing embryos from storage; and systems not being updated with new patient information and consents.
The HFEA has made a number of recommendations to prevent these type of incidents which include ensuring that the relevant staff are familiar with the local procedure for removing embryos from storage; taking the appropriate action to comply with patients’ requests that their embryos are removed from storage; and updating the “bring forward system” with any change of patient circumstance or variation of consent (making sure electronic spreadsheets match the information held in the patient’s notes).
In addition, if a patient has more than one set of embryos in storage (or embryos created with successive partners) special care should be taken to ensure the correct embryos are removed from storage.
Guy Forster, clinical negligence partner at Penningtons Manches, who was quoted in a Sunday Times’ article (2 February 2014) on the destruction of stored embryos, said: “I welcome the recommendations of the alert as incidents like these can have the most devastating effect on patients. While many of my cases stem from poor clinical treatment or laboratory mistakes, I am also seeing a growing number of clients who have suffered purely through these type of administrative errors identified in HFEA’s alert.
“My concern is that there are still some clinics out there whose systems are not in order, particularly when it comes to the handling and storage of embryos and gametes. It seems that often these problems only come to light when something goes wrong.
“For some couples, those lost embryos might have been their last hope of parenthood and for that to be taken away because of basic, preventable mistakes is incredibly hard to take.”