Mental health charities yesterday called for increased staffing levels in psychiatric units after Malcolm Calladine, who had a history of knife attacks, was able to abscond from Highbury Hospital, Nottingham, earlier this year.
He stabbed one-year-old Ashleigh Baker in the stomach with a three-inch knife in front of her mother Norma-Jean.
The child's life was saved by the prompt action of a passer-by, Pauline Edwards, who administered first aid until an ambulance arrived.
Ashleigh underwent emergency surgery and has since made a full recovery.
Ms Edwards was yesterday awarded pounds 100 from public funds by the court in recognition of her action.
Calladine, who has a mental age of eight, later admitted the offence to police and told them that he had wanted to be moved from the hospital in order to live with his sister. When he was asked why he bought the knife, he replied: "To kill a baby."
Nottingham Crown Court was told that he had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals since the age of five and had several convictions for indecent assault on children as well as a history of knife attacks.
Calladine was known to have absconded repeatedly from different hospitals, including Highbury, where he had lived since 1991, the prosecution said.
Judge John Hopkin said it was worrying that Calladine had been able to abscond so easily and ordered that he be detained under the Mental Health Act indefinitely. "It is a cause for some concern that this man, who appears to have threatened people with knives and been generally disruptive and violent, was allowed in a hospital where there is not stricter security with the result that this terrible incident occurred," he said.
Nottingham Healthcare NHS Trust, which has launched an independent inquiry into the incident, said that its own inquiry had concluded that the events leading up to the incident "could not have been predicted". In a statement, the Trust said Calladine's history of absconding had been brought under control in the 12 months before the attack.
While he was not thought to need a secure environment, he did benefit from the structure and the support of a hospital, the statement said.
"Immediately after the incident the Trust carried out a full and detailed inquiry into the care Malcolm was receiving. It concluded that the events leading up to the incident could not have been predicted."
The Trust welcomed an independent inquiry, which is to be headed by Professor Mike Gunn, of Leicester's De Montfort University. The inquiry is expected to report in the autumn. Meanwhile, mental health campaigners have criticised the level of care which was given to Calladine.
The charity SANE called for increased staffing levels on the front-line of psychiatric care to curb the risk of such incidents.
Grainne McMorrow, the legal and policy manager for Sane, said: "It is a disgrace that he could disappear off a ward in such circumstances and that staff didn't even know he was missing for several hours."
Peter Hill, of the Zito Trust, which was set up by Jayne Zito after her husband was stabbed to death in an attack by a schizophrenic. welcomed the independent inquiry.
"It is very rare that a violent act which does not result in a homicide leads to such an inquiry so the Trust welcomes that," said Mr Hill.