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Mohamed Taranissi, one of the United Kingdom's best known infertility specialists, will lose the licence he holds in his name for his main clinic, the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, the licence committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has ruled.
The committee's decision was published this week. It said the clinic must appoint another “person responsible” to be the licence holder. Mr Taranissi will remain medical director and will continue to treat patients at the clinic. Once a satisfactory “person responsible” has been appointed, the clinic will initially be given a six month licence coupled with a full inspection.
Mr Taranissi told the BMJ that he intended to appeal against the ruling. The regulatory regime gives a right of appeal to a differently constituted licence committee. If that proves unsuccessful, the High Court can judicially review the decision on grounds of an error of law.
The licence committee concluded that the gynaecologist had breached the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act by treating “significant numbers” of patients at a second clinic, the Reproductive Genetics Institute, without a licence. The committee did not accept that he was justified in thinking his licence for the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre covered the Reproductive Genetics Institute.
Mr Taranissi was not granted and did not seek a treatment licence for the institute, but special directions allowing storage of sperm, eggs, and embryos at the institute will remain in force.
Last month a High Court judge ruled that search warrants obtained by the HFEA and used by police to raid Mr Taranissi's clinics were unlawful. The HFEA accepted that a statement used to obtain the warrants in January was not “legally watertight” because it did not give a complete picture of the regulatory history. The HFEA was ordered to pay costs estimated at £1m (1.5m; $2m).
On the same day as the police raids, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme about Mr Taranissi and his clinics. He is suing the BBC for libel.
The licence committee concluded “that a serious breach of the act had taken place in the offering of licensable treatment in unlicensed premises through 2006, including PGD [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] for chromosomal translocations when no licence existed for this procedure. The committee acknowledged some of the ambiguity about the status of the licence at several points during that year but did not consider this an adequate justification for the breach.
“The committee considered that this was a very serious breach and one that might have profound implications for the safe treatment of patients during that period.”
Mr Taranissi said in a statement, “At the beginning of 2006, the HFEA issued special directions allowing treatment at the Institute for certain patients for an initial period of three months. These special directions were further extended for another three months at the beginning of April 2006. In the meantime, we were advised by the HFEA to consider reporting treatment undertaken at both the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre and the Institute under one licence.”
He said that an interim application form was submitted to the HFEA in February 2006, which listed the addresses of both clinics under the licence of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre.
“This was put before a licence committee and no problems were raised at that time. It was only in late 2006 that the HFEA told us retrospectively that we could not treat patients in both centres under the same licence, notwithstanding their earlier advice.
“In March of this year, when a document showing this earlier advice was pointed out to the judge in our hearing in the High Court, he said he was ‘gobsmacked.' We have never tried to conceal any treatment undertaken at the Institute.”