THE immediate suspension of all new in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) cases at Thomson Fertility Centre (TFC) is likely to prompt a review of procedures at other centres, say doctors. The suspension, pending investigations into a case of the wrong sperm being used at TFC, was the right thing to do, they added. Dr Christopher Chen, director of Gleneagles IVF Centre, said: “We’ve been told many times by the ministry that any lapse at the
centre will result in suspension.”
Professor P.C. Wong, the head of National University Hospital’s division of reproductive endocrinology and fertility, agreed. It is quite standard,” he said. He said TFC would probably be reinstated once shortcomings
were identified and rectified. In a statement last night, the Health Ministry said the centre was suspended from initiating fresh cycles of assisted reproduction (AR) treatment because of shortcomings in its processes and
practices that increased the risk of mixing up specimens.
It found in its initial audits that the centre had a single laboratory staffer handling more than one specimen at a workstation. The ministry said that a requirement to process only one AR specimen at a time – would be applicable at all centres here. It has already been adopted in the AR centres of all three public hospitals, the Singapore General Hospital, the National University Hospital and the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
However, Prof Wong said AR centres here were generally compliant with the regulations. He expects to see tighter guidelines, with better control over the centres, to come over time. Two private fertility centres said they allowed an embryologist to handle only one specimen at a time. Excluding TFC, there are four other private fertility centres here. Dr Paul Tseng, the medical director of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction (Care), a private clinic at Paragon, said it had always adhered to the guideline. But he said he was considering new methods to tighten procedures at his centre.
“It’s about time we applied more technology in the way we handle the specimens,” he said. “This case is a shock for everyone in the industry, a learning experience. Centres will now really take pains to ensure this does not occur again.” At Care, safety checks include having a second embryologist present to countersign and verify the name and identification number tagged to the specimen at every stage of the process. Gleneagles IVF Centre also has two embryologists working on one specimen at the same time, to minimise the chance of human error.
Above all, however, the best safeguard against mistakes is accurate labelling and exercising great care in the laboratory, said Dr Chen.