NHS chiefs accused of 'cover up' at suspended fertility clinic as DOZENS feared to be robbed of parenthood

Composite image of frozen embryos and Homerton University Hospital

The fertility clinic admitted that 'errors' in its freezing processes had led to some embryos being destroyed'

Getty Images/PA
Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 12/03/2024

- 13:25

Updated: 12/03/2024

- 13:35
  • 153 embryos, affecting 45 patients, may have been unexpectedly destroyed at a top NHS clinic
  • Documents allege health bosses have known about the scandal for almost a year
  • It comes after two fertility clinics were rocked by a similar scandal last month
Health chiefs have been accused of "cover up" at a top NHS fertility clinic that was shut down over the unexpected destruction of embryos.

Documents reportedly show that Homerton Fertility Centre and the IVF regulator were aware last June that "errors" in the freezing process were risking the survival of embryos but the east London clinic continued to operate as normal.

Last Friday, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) suspended the centre’s licence over “significant concerns” and a “potential risk to patients, gametes and embryos” following three separate "incidents" last year.

The unit said in response that it made staff “work in pairs" after concerns were raised about unsupervised access to storage areas for eggs, sperm, and embryos and "we have made changes in the unit to prevent reoccurrence of such incidents".

Man walking outside of an NHS clinic

The regulator suspended the centre’s licence over 'significant concerns' following three 'incidents'


This will be cold comfort to the dozens of patients whose eggs may have been destroyed in the process.

The clinic has been inundated with calls and emails from patients, including those undergoing cancer treatment, who are demanding answers about the state of their embryos.

It could take years before patients know the truth, by which time their fertility window may have passed.

At least 153 embryos, belonging to 45 patients, have been frozen and may not survive the process, potentially robbing dozens of the chance of having a child.

But whistleblowers fear that the real number could be far higher.

Now, documents seen by The Telegraph show that officials flagged concerns with the HFEA as far back as June last year and even prepared a draft statement in case the scandal was picked up by the press.

Matthew Gaunt, the clinic’s lab director, was asked at the time to review the operating procedures being used to freeze embryos, the documents show.

He was also asked to “enquire whether manufacturers can provide markers on the tube to show which way the straws should be inserted”.

However, records show that this plan was never implemented.

According to whistleblowers, many of the problems are thought to stem from "inverted straw freezing", where embryos are incorrectly stored upside down in the freezing solution.

Upon thawing this causes them to be exposed air faster than normal, destroying them.

So far, 20 cases are understood to not have survived the thawing process.

Even patients affected who may still have the option for further IVF treatments face an uphill battle with no guarantee of getting the outcome that they so desperately hope for.

IVF success rates rapidly decline as the age of the person whose eggs are being used increases.

Eggs being frozen at a fertility clinic A faulty freezing solution likely damaged the eggs of more than 130 women at NHS-operated fertility clinic in LondonPA

Sarah Norcross, director of fertility charity the Progress Educational Trust (PET), said: "Patients affected by what has happened deserve a prompt explanation, from the clinic and/or the HFEA, of what exactly has gone wrong.

"The longer this takes, the greater the speculation and the greater the distress."

In the meantime, those should be offered fertility treatment elsewhere and at no additional cost, she added.

A Trust spokesperson said: "We have written to our fertility patients apologising for the errors and for the concern they may have caused even if their eggs, embryos or sperm are unaffected."

An internal investigation is underway and patients will be informed at every stage of the inquiry, they said.

A HFEA spokesman said: "The issues are complex and relate to three separate incidents over the course of a year."

The sheer scope and scale of the investigation could mean a conclusion isn't reached for months and that suspending a clinic is a "rare and serious decision".

The suspension, which is in effect until May of this year, means the unit will not be able to accept any new bookings for treatment but existing patients can still access its services.

It comes after two fertility clinics were rocked by a similar scandal last month. More than 150 patients were told their eggs were affected by a faulty solution in the embryo freezing process.

Regulators revealed that the frozen eggs of 136 women at Guy’s and St Thomas' NHS Trust in London may have been destroyed due to the botched technique.

The Jessop Fertility clinic in Sheffield used the same faulty product that destroyed the frozen eggs but thankfully none of the 29 women involved were affected.

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