'It’s over, our embryos are gone’: Faulty egg freezing leaves couple in agony

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When Sara* sat down to check her emails two days before a fertility procedure with her last two remaining frozen embryos, she expected to find the usual shopping deals and spam.

Instead, she saw a message marked 'Private and Confidential'.

It was from the NHS hospital trust Sara and her husband had been with for IVF treatment for the last five years.

The letter informed her there was a “manufacturing issue with some bottles of a solution” which may have been used to freeze eggs and embryos.

It continued: “The manufacturer has advised that the issues may adversely impact the thawing process.”

Sara said: “I was in absolute tears and I had no idea what was going on.

“I said to my husband ‘it’s over, our embryos are gone’.”

In September and October 2022 the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s Hospital in London unknowingly used a batch of faulty fluid in the egg and embryo freezing process.

The manufacturer, Cooper Surgical, issued a safety notice in February 2023. Guy’s Hospital told ITV News they were made aware of the defective fluid in March 2023.

In May 2023 Sara and her husband decided to try to conceive again using two of their frozen embryos.

The clinic knew theirs might have been affected by the fluid and could be damaged during the thawing process but they did not tell Sara and her husband.

The embryos thawed successfully but the transfer did not result in a pregnancy.

In December 2023, the couple began the process to try to conceive again using their last two frozen embryos.

They had pre-procedure phone calls with a consultant and later, a nurse. This was followed by a hospital appointment for scans and to begin medication.

The clinic still did not tell Sara and her husband that their embryos had been stored in the faulty liquid.

They were booked in for an embryo transplant at the end of January 2024.

This has been a very emotionally distressing time for patients affected, ITV News' Ellie Pitt reports

Then, almost a year after medics were made aware of the defective fluid – and two days before Sara’s last embryo transfer – the clinic finally wrote, out of the blue, to the couple and told them their embryos were affected.

“The communication of it caused a lot of upset, a lot of stress going into that transfer.”

“I was so nervous about whether [the embryos] had survived or not, whereas I’ve never had that nervousness before because I’ve kind of known yes, there’s a small chance they might not survive but you know it’s a very small chance but [this] overshadowed the whole thing and added so much more stress to it.”

Sara is one of 136 patients at the Guy’s Hospital clinic affected by the use of the faulty solution.

Some of the patients are women who froze their eggs or embryos because they were undergoing cancer treatment.

For Sara, the way they found out about the manufacturing problem was the most damaging.

“They took money from us twice having known about this issue and not told us about it.”

She and her husband had a phone call with a Guy’s doctor the day they were sent the letter but she says: “I couldn’t believe … they’d known for a year because my understanding from the call was that they’d maybe known for a couple of months.

“There hasn’t been a proper apology from the hospital about how they communicated this to us. It’s been really badly handled by them.

"They sent a very standard letter apologising for the delay but they’ve not acknowledged the upset this would have caused.”

The January embryo thawing process was a success but did not result in a pregnancy for Sara.

“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life - fertility treatment. It’s emotionally taxing, it’s physically exhausting, it’s so stressful. There’s so much stress around it, there’s so much uncertainty, there’s so much that you can’t control. To have this added on, on top, was just awful," she said.

Sara now wants a full investigation and apology for the patients affected.

Although she and her husband have decided they will not try any more rounds of fertility treatment, she is also calling for the manufacturer to fund a round of treatment for affected patients.

A spokesperson for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said they were made aware of a manufacturing issue with some bottles of a solution, which may have been used to freeze eggs and embryos between 12 September and 19 October 2022.

"While we did not know about the potential issue at the time eggs or embryos were frozen, this manufacturing issue might adversely impact the chance of frozen egg or embryo survival during thawing.

“We have contacted all of those affected and apologised for the delay in doing so and any distress this may have caused. We are supporting those who may have been impacted, including through our counselling service and a dedicated phoneline for them.”

One patient at the Jessop Fertility Clinic in Sheffield is also affected. They have been contacted and no further action was necessary.

The fertility industry regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has begun an investigation.

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Rachel Cutting, Director of Compliance and Information at the HFEA, said the ongoing investigation only relates to Guys’ as they are "satisfied that Jessop’s undertook a thorough investigation".

“The company supplying the product directly to clinics will know exactly where it’s gone through their traceability processes. The company is also obliged to report any problems to the MHRA.

“Any patients likely to have been affected will have been notified by their clinic. We hope this provides reassurance to anyone concerned.

“We share Field Safety Notices as required and every clinic is expected to act on the information provided. It is a legal requirement for clinics to report any incident to the HFEA in accordance with our clinical governance procedures, and in line with our Code of Practice.

“Fertility treatment in the UK is generally very safe, our most recent report shows that out of the almost 100,000 treatment and storage cycles which took place in 2022/23, more than 99% were conducted without any incidents occurring.”

ITV News contacted Cooper Surgical for comment but they are yet to respond.

*The name of the individual who spoke to ITV News has been changed to protect their identity.