Patient sues after faulty fridge ‘ruins’ IVF sperm samples
A FORMER cancer patient who claims he lost the chance of fathering a child when a freezer storing his sperm failed is claiming damages from the NHS.
Richard Holdich, 43, is one of about 20 men who have gone to court seeking compensation over the incident at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital.
Mr Holdich provided three sperm samples before undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer, but they were exposed to increased temperatures when a fault affected the liquid nitrogen supply to a freezer.
He believes the samples have been damaged and that it would be unsafe to use them in fertility treatment.
Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust disputes that Mr Holdich, of Beverley, East Yorkshire, has been denied the opportunity of fatherhood, and told a judge that two samples from the freezer had been used and had resulted in conception and the birth of healthy children.
Mr Holdich’s action is being treated as a test case, and a full hearing at the Court of Session is due next year. He is seeking £50,000 in damages.
A preliminary hearing yesterday was told Mr Holdich, then 23, had been a patient at the hospital in 1992 and was advised that chemotherapy would leave him infertile. It was agreed his sperm would be stored for future use.
“The knowledge that his samples were safely stored was a comfort to him during his
cancer treatment,” said Mr Holdich’s lawyers.
“In early 2000, he and his wife began IVF treatment. In August 2001, they requested the transfer of his frozen sperm to East Riding Fertility Services, Hull…he was advised that a failure occurred in the freezer containing sperm samples.
“As a result, his samples were not kept at a correct and safe temperature. It should have been –190C. Over a period of approximately 48 hours, it rose to –53C.”
The lawyers stated that it was likely the viability and genetic integrity of the samples had been affected, increasing the risk of miscarriage and birth defects. They claimed a consultant at the hospital had told Mr Holdich that an expert report advised the samples should not be used.
Mr Holdich “reasonably decided” against using the frozen sperm.
The court heard the samples were not destroyed and continued to be stored by the hospital.
“Use of his damaged samples is unlikely to have resulted in conception and live birth. In the circumstances, he has lost the opportunity to father his own child,” added the lawyers.
Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust said the samples had not been kept at the preferred temperature, although no cryogenically stored sperm could be guaranteed to be viable.
An expert’s opinion had been that use of the samples would be acceptable, provided there was prenatal screening for chromosomal abnormalities, said the trust.
“Mr Holdich did not, as a consequence of the failure of the refrigerator, lose the opportunity of fathering his own child by using the stored sperm samples. His samples remained viable and could have been used,” the trust added.
“The only two sperm samples from the freezer which have been used in fertility treatment have resulted in conception and birth of healthy children.”
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