Human error most likely cause for IVF incubator failure - Health Minister

Inquiry found no evidence of a technical fault

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

An IVF incubator at Mater Dei Hospital was most likely left on stand-by mode for 24 hours in January 2017 because of an error by an embryologist, Health Minister Chris Fearne told parliament on Monday night.

The minister was giving a statement in parliament on the findings of an independent inquiry into the incident, which found that the incubator was not faulty, that a hospital power cut that day had not affected it and that the most likely cause was human error.

There were nine embryos in the incubator at the time. All the embryos  were implanted in the respective mothers, but not a single one had come to term. The affected couples were offered an extra IVF cycle, with the Health Ministry bearing all costs. Three of the couples are now parents.

Mr Fearne said that the inquiry’s findings were only now being made public - a few weeks after they had been sent to the Ministry by the appointed Board of Inquiry - because he had felt it necessary to first discuss the matter with the involved parties.

The inquiry was led by judge Alberto Magri and involved 36 interviews over a total of 35.5 hours.

Mr Fearne shared the inquiry findings with MPs.Mr Fearne shared the inquiry findings with MPs.

Mater Dei Hospital has already started implementing some of the report’s reccommendations, the minister told parliament. An access control system has been installed in the incubator laboratory, and a CCTV system is due to be installed on Tuesday. The ministry is also looking into whether it would be possible to add an alarm to the equipment.

Reacting, Opposition MPs pointed out that the inquiry’s findings had been brought before the House just as it was about to discuss a controversial law amending the Embryo Protection Act.

Opposition MP Stephen Spiteri said that such incidents showed the need for
embryos to be protected as far as possible and to ensure that nothing could go wrong throughout the IVF process. Opposition MP Claudio Grech said that the most important element of the statement made by the Minister was its implicit recognition that embryos were persons, and that they should be treated as such.

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