‘Too many’ IVF treatment errors

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MISTAKES and errors occur in one in every 100 IVF procedures, new figures reveal today.

On average, there are 500 to 600 mistakes made in every 60,000 cycles of fertility treatment, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Problems range from the most serious, including using the wrong sperm, to breaches of confidentiality.

Its latest report says that in the three years to the end of 2012 there were 1,679 adverse incidents in UK fertility clinics.

The authority, which licenses fertility clinics and centres
carrying out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), other assisted conception procedures and human embryo research, said there were three of the most serious adverse events, known as grade A mistakes, 714 grade B incidents and 815 grade C errors during the
period.

One of the most serious mistakes reported was a family receiving the wrong sperm. The couple were due to be given donor sperm from a specific donor – so their child would have the same genes as their sibling – but they were given the sperm of a different donor.

Another incident involved dishes with the embryos of 11 patients becoming contaminated with “cellular debris that may have contained sperm,” the report states. The final grade A error occurred when a member of staff removed frozen sperm from storage while it was still within its consent period.

The HFEA said the most serious incidents occur “infrequently”, but the number of grade C mistakes – such as breaches of confidentiality or one of many eggs being rendered unusable during the processing of treatment – remains “too high”.

The regulator’s chairman, Sally Cheshire, urged clinics to reduce avoidable errors.

“These results show that, in the main, clinics are doing a good job of minimising the number of serious errors, and this should be welcomed,” she said. “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.

“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.”

She added: “Clinics can and should be eradicating these sorts of avoidable errors, which will go a long way towards reducing patient distress and improving the overall experience of IVF treatment.”

IVF treatment is set to be provided by the NHS across the region for the first time in five years amid plans by health chiefs in North Yorkshire to lift restrictions on its provision.