Lost embryos at east London clinic 'were not destroyed by intruders'

General view of Homerton Fertility Centre (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
General view of Homerton Fertility Centre (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

Police appear to have ruled out the possibility that intruders destroyed embryos at an east London clinic which is facing accusations of losing some.

Homerton Fertility Centre was ordered to close to new patients last week, after it was revealed that “a small number of embryos” were “tragically lost”.

Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said it had called police to look into whether outsiders could have gotten hold of the embryos but said officers were “satisfied with the security of the storage facilities”.

The Metropolitan Police have also confirmed that there is “no police investigation at this time”.The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) suspended the centre’s licence over “significant concerns about the clinic”.

It came after The Telegraph reported that 153 embryos from 45 patients were missing and may not have survived the freezing process.

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 the 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”.

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

Homerton Fertility Centre first had its license removed in April 2022, because of dangerous staff shortages, but it was renewed in May.

Since the news about their licence being suspended for a second time broke, dozens of women have come forward alleging that they were treated badly at the clinic.

Emily Porter, 34, from Redbridge, east London, told the Sunday Times a staff member said to her: “You’ve come in without a baby, so if you leave without one it’s not the end of the world.”

Similarly, Jessica O’Hara, 37, said her time with the clinic was “the worst of her life” with “so much trauma”.

The Trust told the Standard: “We are very sorry if patients had a poor experience with our fertility service. The Trust Chief Executive would be happy to discuss these matters with them.

“The security of our storage areas meet all HFEA requirements however, as part of our investigations we have looked at every possible cause for any problems with the storing of embryos.

“We called in our local police - we have a station on site - to look at the security of the storage facilities and whether anybody who is not a staff member could have gained access. We believe they were satisfied with the security of the storage facilities.”

The HFEA's full statement:

Chief executive Peter Thompson 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.”