Hull guards against IVF mix ups

One of the UK’s top fertility clinics has started using a groundbreaking new system to guard against IVF mix-ups.

Hull IVF Unit, which was recently given a five star rating in the latest ratings survey, has installed IVF Witness – a system which uses radio frequency ID technology to ensure that samples used during the IVF process do not become mixed up.

Developed by Research Instruments Ltd in order to eradicate human error in the transfer process, the revolutionary IVF Witness technology sets off an alarm to warn embryology staff when sperm and egg samples from different parents are brought near each other – preventing the kind of mix ups that, though rare, have resulted in cases like that of the white couple in this country who gave birth to black twins.

In response to that well publicised IVF mistake and others, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) tightened checks at all 72 clinics in the UK by establishing a double witness process.  This means that every point at which sperm or eggs are transferred or moved must now be witnessed by two people.  Whilst this reduces the risk of error, it does not remove it completely and more and more clinics in both the UK and the US are now looking to IVF Witness to give staff and patients the reassurance they need.

‘We have chosen to install this system for two reasons,’ said Dr John Robinson, Hull IVF Unit’s Scientific Director.  ‘Firstly, and most importantly, it greatly reduces the possibility of human error.  Secondly, unlike the double witness process, it does not require two members of staff to operate – it allows embryologists to work safely and effectively, without frequent interruptions to witness with other colleagues.

‘In Hull we see about 350 IVF patients each year and the manual system becomes more difficult to manage, and potentially less reliable, the busier it gets.  IVF Witness minimises human intervention and the system’s workstation won’t allow the wrong eggs and sperm to be used in the same location:  very reassuring for both patients and staff.  In effect, it is providing a continual and very robust safety check, independent, and additional to the many checks embryologists have to carry out while working.’

‘After looking at several possible alternatives, we chose to develop a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system because it is far more effective and reliable than anything else on the market,’ said Bill Brown, Managing Director of Research Instruments, based in Falmouth, Cornwall.  ‘RFID continually monitors the whole work area so no transfer can take place between non-matching samples.  It makes it impossible for a sample to be transferred to a non-matching patient without an alarm going off.’

Established in 1964, Research Instruments has a long and successful track record in designing and manufacturing IVF instruments and equipment for the world market.

‘We have been working with RI for more than ten years,’ said Dr Robinson, who visited the company with senior embryologist Christine Leary just before Christmas.  ‘What impresses us is that, as well as being reliable and well researched, their devices are tailored to suit a clinic’s specific working needs.  We are not simply buying something off the shelf.’

Hull IVF Unit will begin using IVF Witness in early January


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