The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, UK has announced strict new guidelines to protect the safety of frozen sperm, eggs and embryos stored at fertility clinics throughout the UK. The guidelines have been produced following an HFEA review into a small number of incidents where inadequate temperature levels in storage vessels led to the irretrievable loss of patients’ stored material.
To improve safety for patients, by the end of June 2005 all clinics storing frozen sperm, eggs and embryos are expected to ensure:
- Effective alarms and monitoring systems are fitted to storage vessels
- The alarm system includes a process to alert staff if problems occur outside normal working hours - like auto-dialling of staff’s home telephone numbers or links to a hospital’s fire alert system
- Formal emergency procedures are in place for dealing with a freezer incident - including adequate spare storage vessels for transferring samples
- A staff ‘on-call’ system is in place so that there is always somebody available to carry out these emergency procedures
As an additional measure the samples of patients whose fertility has been impaired by medical treatments, like those used to treat cancer, should be divided between different storage vessels.
Angela McNab, HFEA Chief Executive said:
"We have to make sure we take every step possible to safeguard stored material in clinics. For cancer patients in particular, this material is so precious because it can be their only chance of having children. Patient safety is our top priority at the HFEA and we work constantly with infertility clinics to improve it.”
These storage guidelines are the latest in a series of HFEA initiatives to improve patient safety at UK fertility clinics by sharing information between clinics. Earlier this year the HFEA formalised its incident alert system which involves the HFEA issuing all clinics with anonymous details of adverse incidents to help avoid mistakes being repeated.