News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Hospital apologises for remarks following after IVF mix-up

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 26 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1416
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A consultant gynaecologist whose in vitro fertilisation unit was closed after an embryo mix-up accepted a six figure libel settlement last week over comments made by her trust's medical director about her management of the unit.

    St George's Healthcare NHS Trust in south London apologised to Geeta Nargund in a statement read out at the High Court in London and agreed to pay her a substantial five figure sum in damages and costs of more than £100 000 ($170 000; €145 000).

    Mrs Nargund, 43, was medical director of the Diana Princess of Wales Centre for Reproductive Medicine until October 2002, when she was suspended on full pay and the unit was closed. The closure followed a three way mix-up in April 2002, when the embryos of one woman were implanted in another, and hers in turn were implanted in a third woman.

    The error, made by a doctor and an embryologist, happened when Mrs Nargund was away from the unit. It was discovered within 24 hours, and the embryos were flushed out. Two of the women were offered further treatment, and both became pregnant.

    Her libel claim centred on comments by the trust's medical director, Paul Jones, who told television news programmes and several newspapers that the unit was “chaotic” and “badly organised” and that staff were unable to focus on the matter in hand. According to newspaper reports Professor Jones said the doctor and the embryologist who made the mistake were “under so much confused pressure that it was inevitable” and that Mrs Nargund, though not responsible for the mistake, was “the most responsible person for the way [the unit] was working.”

    In a statement agreed by the trust, Mrs Nargund's solicitor, Roderick Dadak, told the High Court last week that Professor Jones had never intended to suggest that she was responsible for the mix-up or the suspension of the unit's services or to suggest any lack of professional competence, skill, ability, or experience on her part. The trust offered its sincere apologies for the distress caused both professionally and personally and agreed to pay damages and costs.

    Mrs Nargund, who is suspended from her trust job and her academic post at St George's Hospital Medical School, is also bringing a separate claim against the trust at an employment tribunal, alleging race and sex discrimination and victimisation as a whistleblower. She is backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and a hearing is scheduled for next February.

    Before Professor Jones made his comments the trust had said that Mrs Nargund's suspension was for “non-clinical matters” unrelated to the closure of the unit. Her solicitor said last January that she had drawn the trust's attention to the fact that the unit was “severely underfunded and understaffed.”

    A spokesman for the trust said: “There are outstanding issues relating to Mrs Nargund's post about which the trust and Mrs Nargund are still in discussion. The trust wishes to make no further comment on these issues at this time.”

    Mrs Nargund said she was not allowed to disclose the size of her libel settlement. “All I can say is it would have paid for hundreds of cycles of IVF [in vitro fertilisation treatment], hundreds of hysterectomies, or several consultant appointments. It's an unnecessary haemorrhaging of public money. They're keeping me out when I've done nothing clinically or academically wrong.”

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