In-vitro fertilization (IVF) doctors in UK are demanding complete overhauling of, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), following a judicial rap it has received.
The High Court in London has ruled that the fertility regulator had unlawfully obtained warrants to search a clinic on the eve of a Panorama documentary. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), coming under the purview of the Department of Health, will pay the clinic an estimated £1.3m in costs.
The British Fertility Society, representing the doctors, said HFEA had lost the trust of the clinics it regulates following the high court victory of Mohamed Taranissi, a controversial IVF doctor who has the best success rates in the country.
HFEA officials, accompanied by police, searched one of Taranissi's clinics in January on the eve of BBC's Panorama.
The HFEA has had a year-long argument with Taranissi about the licensing of his two London clinics. But the court ruled that the information its chief executive, Angela McNab, gave to magistrates to obtain the warrant was inadequate.
Professor Robert Winston, of Imperial College, said: "[This is] further evidence of the complete incompetence of the HFEA and the need for the workings of this organisation to be radically reviewed. This situation will do nothing at all to protect the interests of vulnerable patients. With the loss of this amount of public money, the chief executive and previous chair will presumably need to consider their positions."
The British Fertility Society said it would be asking the Department of Health to conduct a full investigation. "The regulator needs to be accountable, and to maintain the trust and confidence of the sector," said BFS chairman Mark Hamilton. "In this case, this has not happened."
The HFEA said in a statement: "We would wish to stress that the HFEA acted in good faith, and on advice. Our aim is to protect patient safety and ensure patient choice and we regret any distress that may have been caused to Mr Taranissi's patients." The conclusion of the case would not affect its forthcoming decision on whether the licences for the two clinics should be renewed.
Taranissi was obviously delighted at the outcome. But he noted solemnly,"This is the third instance in the last six months of the HFEA having to accept that its information released to the public about us was incorrect. The cost to the taxpayer of this exercise must be enormous. It grieves me that money, estimated to be in excess of £1m, which could have been spent on research or genuine issues of patient safety has instead ended up in the pockets of the lawyers. The whole episode raises serious public interest questions about the way the HFEA acted in this case."