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Bar-code system for babies introduced

IN SCOTLAND'S busiest maternity hospital, they call them bar-code babies. For the first time, new arrivals at the Simpson Maternity Pavilion, part of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, are being identified with supermarket-style tags.

The labels, which bear the baby's name and contain a bar-coded micro-chip, are the latest weapon against baby- snatchers. If a child is removed from the ward with the tag attached, the electronic chip triggers an alarm as the baby passes sensors installed at exit points.

'It's just like walking out of a record shop with a CD you haven't paid for,' explained Gordon Shirreff, business manager at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary NHS Trust. 'As the abductor walks out of the door, the alarm goes off around the hospital and staff are alerted.'

The tags can be removed but, Mr Shirreff said, it was awkward and time-consuming. 'No system offers a 100 per cent guarantee of safety but the tags act as an additional deterrent to would- be snatchers.

'They make taking a child that bit more difficult and, therefore, less likely.'

Midwives and new mothers have welcomed the technology. Shelley Cunningham, 20, mother of four-day-old Ross, said: 'Child abduction worries me a lot. I feel much safer having the tags. I dread to think what pain the mother of Abbie Humphries is going through.'

The Edinburgh scheme is not the first time electronic tagging has been introduced. A system was tested in St Thomas's hospital in London after the abduction of Alexandra Griffiths in 1990. Early experiments proved unsuccessful after babies were found to have damaged the tags.

The Edinburgh scheme is on trial for two weeks. Managers, who say they are encouraged by its early performance, hope to extend the pounds 10,000 system throughout the hospital.

Health officials in Aberdeen said yesterday they were considering following Edinburgh's lead.

(Photograph omitted)