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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 20:31 GMT
Embryo mix-up at IVF hospital
Dividing cells
Embryos were put back in the wrong women
An IVF blunder at a London hospital left two women with the wrong embryos put back into their wombs, it has been revealed.

A doctor in charge of the clinic at St George's Hospital spotted the error hours after the embryos had been transferred.

Both women required medical procedures and drugs to prevent pregnancy.

The error, which happened in April, involved three women - the first of whom had reportedly produced a number of embryos, from which only the best quality pair were chosen.


We have to recognise that in all areas of medicine sometimes things do go wrong

Ann Furedi, HFEA
However, an administrative mix-up at the Diana, Princess of Wales, Centre for Reproductive Medicine, meant that her poorer quality embryos were given to her, while her "good" embryos went to a second woman by mistake.

The second woman's embryos were transferred to a third woman, compounding the error.

Suspended

The hospital has admitted the mistake and apologised for the error to the women involved.

It was reported last week how the head of the unit, Dr Geeta Nargund, had been suspended, allegedly for "non-clinical matters".

Dr Nargund was ordered to stop work on Friday and told to leave the building immediately - and to cease contact with any of her patients.

The error was spotted hours later by the clinic and reported to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates the industry.

Her supporters have claimed that her suspension is linked to her decision to report the incident to the HFEA.

Her husband, Vinod Nargund, told BBC London he believed she had been suspended because she was a whistle blower.

Dr Geeta Nargund
Dr Nargund was responsible for the clinic

He said: "She raised concerns about management failures and doctors' competence and threatened to report this to higher authorities and then she was suspended. You can draw your own conclusions."

The unit has now been shut down "for financial reasons", and women - some reportedly halfway through a cycle of IVF - transferred to another hospital to complete their treatment.

A spokesman for the hospital said: "There was a three-way mix-up in the IVF patients' embryos six months ago.

"The trust immediately launched an inquiry into what had gone wrong and this was reported both to the HFEA, the SW London Strategic Health Authority and the Department of Health.

"The internal inquiry highlighted appropriate action to tighten up procedures and the need for an increase in staffing to allow a safe service to be provided in the future.

"The inquiry also highlighted that a significant factor was the serious lack of leadership within the unit."

The spokesman said that in the light of the required increase in staff, the service was "unsustainable" and that it should be closed down.

All patients were "appropriately contacted", said the statement.

Dr Nargund's suspension concerned an unrelated matter, said the spokesman.

'Not ideal'

The HFEA confirmed on Monday that it had been made aware of the incident, and that St George's Hospital did have protocols designed to prevent this from happening.

A spokesman said that the decision to transfer women mid-cycle to other hospitals was "not ideal", but that the hospital had done everything it could to ease the process.

Ann Furedi, from the HFEA, told the BBC: "What you have to bear in mind is that the doctors did realise the mistake had been made very very quickly.

"We have to recognise that in all areas of medicine sometimes things do go wrong."

Clinics are required by the HFEA to operate scrupulous labelling systems to eliminated the risk of such a mistake.

Double or even triple-checking of embryos, sperm and eggs are required.


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29 Aug 02 | Health
17 Jul 02 | Health
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