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Homerton Fertility Centre has license suspended after 'tragic' loss of embryos due to 'errors'

A small number of embryos have not survived following an error at the clinic  (PA)
A small number of embryos have not survived following an error at the clinic (PA)

A fertility clinic in east London has had its license suspended following the “tragic” loss of a small number of embryos.

A special notice on the Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust website said Homerton Fertility Centre will not accept any new bookings for treatment but existing patients can still access services.

Patients currently being treated by the fertility unit were sent a letter explaining there had been three separate incidents in the last year, which “have highlighted errors in a small number of our freezing processes”.

The letter added: “Tragically, this has, in some cases resulted in a small number of embryos either not surviving or being undetectable.

“We have external clinical experts investigating these incidents and, whilst they have not been able to find any direct cause to explain this, we have made changes in the unit to prevent reoccurrence of such incidents.”

The letter, signed by Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Louise Ashley, explained the fertility unit has “increased the security and access points in the unit”.

The CEO apologised to those affected and for the concern caused to patients even if eggs, embryos or sperm were unaffected.

There are provisions in place for current patients undergoing treatment and for all eggs, embryos and sperm to continue to be stored in the clinic, the NHS trust said.

Homerton Fertility Centre had its license removed until May by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) which governs the running of fertility units in England.

A spokesperson for Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust added that staff at the fertility centre are investigating issues with the storage of embryos.

They said errors in a small number of freezing processes “resulted in the tragic loss of a small number of embryos either not surviving or being undetectable altogether”.

The spokesperson said: “The Trust immediately made the HFEA fully aware of the investigation being carried out by external experts. We also immediately informed the patients affected and have apologised for any distress we have caused.

“Whilst the investigators have not been able to find any direct cause of the errors, we have made changes in the unit to prevent re-occurrence of such incidents.

“All our staff now work in pairs to ensure all clinical activities are checked by two healthcare professionals. We have re-checked all competencies of staff within the unit.

“We have increased the security and access points in the unit.”

Chief Executive Louise Ashley said in a statement on Friday: "We are sending a letter to all our fertility patients this afternoon apologising for the errors and for the concern this may have caused even if their eggs, embryos or sperm are unaffected.

“We will continue to keep them informed. Current patients may continue to be treated at the unit despite the licence suspension by the HFEA and our very dedicated staff are keen to support patients in whatever way they can."

Peter Thompson, chief executive of the HFEA, said: “The HFEA has suspended Homerton Fertility Centre’s licence to operate with immediate effect, due to significant concerns about the clinic.

“The HFEA Licence Committee made this decision because of the potential risk to patients, gametes and embryos if the clinic’s licence is not suspended with immediate effect.

“We appreciate this may cause concern to patients who are undergoing treatment at the clinic, or have eggs, sperm and, or embryos stored there.

“We do not want to disrupt patients’ treatment if they have already started medication as part of a treatment cycle, so we have made provisions to allow them to complete their treatment if they wish to do so.

“The clinic must continue to store eggs, sperm, and embryos safely. All HFEA licensed clinics can be found here and they will be able to advise patients further on transporting their eggs, sperm or embryos if they would like to do so.”

Homerton NHS Trust has set up a Helpline: 020 8510 5211 open 8am to 6pm seven days a week to answer any queries or concerns that patients may have.