In short, extremely rare. Learnings from decades-old incidents have required the UK to put in place stringent check processes and frameworks, to ensure in vitro mix up likelihood is all-but zero. All-but – so not impossible, but extremely unlikely.
Your clinic should be able to run you through these rigorous checking requirements, any time you ask. But recent headlines covering a heartbreaking embryo implantation error in California, USA, have triggered understandable renewed concerns.
So, how common are IVF mix-ups UK-wise, in 2024? Let’s dig in.
The Toft Report, 2004
But first, let’s rewind, to 2002.
In July of that year, Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England at the time, commissioned Professor Brian Toft to investigate circumstances surrounding the sperm mix-up – alongside three other incidents – occurring at assisted reproduction units in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, West Yorkshire.
In this case, two couples arrived on the same day, for treatment at the same facility. Human error, however, heartbreakingly led to a sperm mix-up, with the samples being switched. It was only on the birth of twins to Mr and Mrs A that the error became clear. The twins were mixed race, and the couple were both white.
Key findings and takeaways from Toft’s Report, published in 2004, included serious concerns regarding:
- human error
- poor management
- systems failures
His report made over 100 recommendations for change, heavily criticised fertility services in the UK, the government itself, and the governing body – the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).