Baby girl suffocated in parents' hospital bed

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A coroner yesterday called for a nationwide ban on parents sleeping with their children in hospitals after a two-month-old girl suffocated beneath her mother as the two slept on a 3ft-wide mattress placed on the floor of a ward.

A coroner yesterday called for a nationwide ban on parents sleeping with their children in hospitals after a two-month-old girl suffocated beneath her mother as the two slept on a 3ft-wide mattress placed on the floor of a ward.

The coroner, Roger Whittaker, said he was "astounded" that St Luke's Hospital in Bradford, West Yorkshire, had allowed Chelsea Brown's parents to sleep with her, causing her death by asphyxiation.

The child's father, who had also been allowed to sleep on the ward, had picked her up to comfort her in the early hours of 26 May this year. But as he dozed off on the hospital floor, Chelsea became trapped beneath her sleeping mother - 17-year-old Kelly Rusling. The baby was later found by a nurse.

The inquest was told that the child, who was being detained at the hospital because she was on the local council's at-risk register, died despite attempts to resuscitate her.

Mr Whittaker said he was "astounded" that the practice of parents lying with babies - a cause of numerous deaths - had been allowed at a hospital and said he would be informing the Department of Health of the case to ensure that the practice was banned nationwide.

"[The case] is particularly surprising [considering the child was] on the at-risk register and was referred to remain in hospital for a few more days in order to protect her," Mr Whittaker said.

The court was told that Chelsea had been taken to hospital suffering from a chest infection and that her parents had been given the single mattress to put on the floor so that they could sleep near their baby and help to look after her.

On the night of Chelsea's death, the child's father, Mark Brown, heard his daughter coughing and spluttering and had picked her up in order to comfort her.

"I put my arm around her, and at that point I must have nodded off," he told the court. "I woke up and the television in the room was still on. A nurse came in and asked where Chelsea was. I picked her up and she was white."

The chief nurse, Rose Stephens, said that children and their parents were often "upset and frightened" while in hospital together. "We always therefore try to do what is best for both of them," she said.

"This tragedy was deeply regrettable and we have certainly learnt some lessons from it. The safety of the child must now be paramount."

The hospital has since changed its policy and will now allow only one parent to sleep in the room. It has also insisted that under no circumstances should they sleep in the same bed with a child.

Mr Whittaker recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Outside the court, Ms Rusling said she was upset that it had taken a tragedy of this kind to change the policy of the hospital.

She added that she and her her partner were trying to find a home in Bradford that would be nearer to her mother as they prepared for the birth of their second child, which she is expecting next year.

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