Parents face action for recovery of hypodermic

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The Independent Online
A couple who say their new-born son was discharged from a National Health Service Trust hospital with a hypodermic needle lodged under his skin, are facing legal action for the return of the needle.

Jan Honey, spokeswoman for the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust, confirmed yesterday that unless the 1.5in needle is returned by noon today, the trust's solicitors will apply to the High Court for its recovery.

She said that forensic tests on the needle - including analysis of any blood stains - are vital to the independent investigation of the parents' claims and no further progress could be made without it. "A request for the return of the needle was first made a week ago. It is a very complex issue," she added.

Steve Jones, the father of six-week-old Benjamin, last night reacted angrily to the threatened action. "I thought it was a joke. They are adding insult to injury," he said. His wife Andrea, 24, said it was "unbelievable" that the trust was behaving in this way.

Mr Jones, 31, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, said that he and his wife had been unable to settle down to family life with their first child at their home in Helston, Cornwall, because of the needle incident.

Adrian Hickman, a medical injuries specialist who is representing the couple, said last night that they had not refused to return the needle, "but we need to take independent advice and consider the matter further". The needle is now with an independent expert who is carrying out a forensic examination on the couple's behalf.

Mr Hickman said he had been unable to instruct the independent expert formally because an application for legal aid on behalf of the baby was turned down by the Legal Aid Board last week. An appeal against the decision will be heard later this week in Truro.

Benjamin Jones was born on Christmas Day - six weeks premature - at Treliske Hospital in Truro, part of the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust. At 10 days old, he underwent a lumbar puncture and other tests. His parents say that a lump developed on his stomach the following day. An X-ray and ultrasound failed to show anything, and he was discharged on 12 January.

A week later, as Mrs Jones was changing his nappy she says she saw the needle in her son's back and removed it. When she and her husband returned to the hospital they say they were told that a needle had shown up on an X-ray two weeks before.

Treliske Hospital was at the centre of a national furore after a surgeon allowed a theatre nurse to remove a male patient's appendix during an operation in December. The surgeon and the nurse kept their jobs but both were reprimanded.

A statement issued yesterday by the trust said that it "acted quickly to initiate an independent investigation by external neo-natal experts. They are unable to make further progress without the return of the needle in question.

"We have a duty to the public and in the interests of baby Benjamin's health to ensure that this investigation is completed as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The trust is concerned that to date the refusal by legal representatives to return the needle is now delaying this important investigation. We are now seeking a court order to recover the needle."