More than 100 women could have heartbreakingly lost the chance to become mothers due to a glitch in the egg freezing process at a top fertility clinic.
Among the 136 women affected were cancer patients who had their uterus surgically removed, it was revealed today.
Treatment for some types of cancer can make women infertile, meaning they may be advised to freeze their eggs beforehand.
News of the error was only communicated to patients during the last two weeks.
136 women may have lost the chance to become birth mothers and an NHS fertility clinic warns that their frozen eggs and embryos may not survive the thawing process due to a fault (file image)
All women had their eggs or embryos frozen at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust between September and October 2022.
However, The Times reports that the hospital was informed of the error in March last year, suggesting they kept the flaw a secret.
All affected women had their eggs or embryos frozen at the clinic in the fall of 2022, between September and October.
The clinic, which boasts of being one of the most advanced of its kind in the country, It deals with both NHS and private patients, charging the latter thousands of pounds for IVF treatment and hundreds for egg and embryo cryopreservation.
Patient leaflets list the cost of an IVF embryo freezing at £4,750 and an annual cryopreservation storage fee of £350.
A letter sent to the women, seen by the newspaper, informed them that their eggs and embryos “may not survive the thawing process” due to a manufacturing problem with the solution bottles originally used to freeze them.
Currently only the Guy’s unit is known to be affected.
But Britain’s fertility treatments regulator says the particular product may have been distributed to other UK clinics, meaning more problems could be discovered in the future.
The Human Embryology and Fertilization Authority (HEFA) is actively investigating the incident.
The delay between the incident occurring and women finding out about the failure means that some may no longer have extra eggs to freeze, effectively dashing their hopes of ever becoming biological mothers.
Even those who still have the option of receiving more IVF treatments could face much greater difficulties.
The odds of successful IVF decline rapidly as women age, from 32 percent for women under 35 to just 4 percent for women over 44, declining to approximately 6 to 7 percent. for every two years of age.
Guy’s reportedly apologized for the delay and offered counseling to the women.
A letter sent to affected patients said the Trust had “become aware of a manufacturing issue with some vials of a solution which may have been used to freeze eggs and embryos in September and October 2022”. The times reported.
He continues: “This means that there is a risk that the eggs and embryos frozen in the affected solution will not survive the thawing process and cannot be used in the treatment.”
Guy’s Assisted Conception Unit treats around 2,000 patients a year.
Women shocked by the loss of eggs and embryos say they are devastated.
One, who spoke anonymously, said: “The doctor informed me that the eggs I had frozen are unlikely to be viable due to a faulty freezing process.” It has been devastating.
“It is traumatizing for these poor women to be told that their frozen eggs cannot be used.”
Currently, fertility treatment has a success rate of up to 40 percent. Around a third of IVF cycles among under-35s resulted in a live birth in 2019 in the UK. However, this proportion dropped to just 4 percent among people over 44 years of age.
She asked that Guy’s cover the cost of additional fertility treatment.
A Trust spokesperson said: “We have contacted everyone affected and apologized for the delay in doing so and any distress this may have caused.”
“We are supporting those who may have been affected, including through our advice service, and would urge anyone with concerns to speak to us directly via the dedicated phone line we have set up.”
The conception unit reportedly became aware of the problem on March 10 last year, just weeks after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency issued an alert about problems with the freezing solution.
Rachel Cutting, director of compliance and information at the HFEA, warned that other fertility clinics may have been affected by the flaw.
“We are aware that this affected product may have been distributed to other UK clinics, although the HFEA is not currently aware of any other licensed clinics where patients have been affected,” it said.
‘We appreciate that any incident may worry patients.
“We advise patients to contact their own clinic with any queries or concerns as the clinic is in the best position to advise people on how they may or may not have been affected.”
The HFEA recorded more than 4,200 egg storage cycles in 2021, almost double the 2,500 in 2019.
The number of women freezing their eggs is thought to have increased during Covid because many feared they were running out of time to have a baby.
The pandemic halted dating among single women for months, leaving some unsure when they would find the right partner to start a family.
Egg freezing involves following the first steps of IVF, which takes two to three weeks to complete.
Women take medications to increase egg production and help them mature.
The eggs are then collected under general anesthesia, mixed with a freezing solution, and frozen.
Most patients under the age of 38 have seven to 14 eggs collected. On average, women lose about 1,000 eggs a month.