Apologies have been issued by the fertility clinic IVF Wales following the accidental destruction of three patients' sperm samples. The samples, known as straws, were collected from patients undergoing treatments for blood disorders and cancer that may affect their fertility. An investigation is underway as to why no senior staff were informed when the samples were destroyed in March this year.
Dr Graham Shortland, medical director of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which runs the clinic, says: 'While sperm was being transferred from an old storage system some fragments of unlabelled straws were noticed at the bottom of the container. The error made was around the fact that the individual who discovered the fragments should have reported it to a senior but didn't'.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) investigated the centre in April following the incident and shall inspect the clinic again in January. 'The HFEA acknowledges it is an uncommon consequence of these types of storage systems. The straws are stored at minus 70°C and are very fragile', says Dr Shortland.
Previous mistakes have occurred at the Welsh clinic, with one couple's last viable embryo being implanted into another female patient in 2009 and claims by another couple last year of the loss of their frozen embryo.
According to Dr Shortland, the most recent mistake will not impact the chances of the three patients in question having children. He said that each patient 'has probably lost the equivalent of one straw — they would have had between 27 and 80 samples stored… we don't believe there's any reduction in these patients being able to achieve a pregnancy should they wish to'.
The incident resulted in the resignations of two senior staff members: the head of the clinic and the head of embryology. The HFEA has ordered a reduction in the number of treatment cycles the clinic can carry out.
Dr Shortland says that 'IVF Wales has learned lessons from this experience and continues to work closely with the regulators to ensure ongoing improvement to systems and processes, in line with an agreed action plan'.