Staff member suspended at scandal-hit NHS trust after baby is found with dummy taped to its face

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Police have launched an investigation at the scandal-hit Stafford Hospital after a baby was found with a dummy taped to its face.

Four-month-old Mason Fellows was unharmed in the incident that took place earlier this month at the hospital, which is already at the centre of a public inquiry into serious failings of care.

The Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust apologised to the baby’s family yesterday and suspended a hospital worker while the police investigation takes place.

Mason and his twin brother Reece had been born 11 weeks prematurely on 3 September last year, at Walsall Manor Hospital. Their parents Sarah Fellows and her boyfriend Lee Denning brought the twins home in December, but Mason was rushed to Stafford Hospital after suffering breathing difficulties. It was then that the dummy is alleged to have been taped to Mason’s face.

The incident is a severe embarrassment to the trust coming 10 days before the launch of a £13m public inquiry into poor standards of care which went undetected for years. Up to 1,200 patients more than expected are estimated to have died between 2005 and 2008 in one of the NHS’s worst scandals. The inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis QC, is expected to send shock waves through the NHS.

The scandal was exposed in a report by NHS regulators, the Healthcare Commission, in 2009, and the trust, with new managers, has since improved its standards of care and has a low death rate.

But Monitor, the regulator, ruled earlier this month that the trust was “clinically and financially unsustainable” after it was revealed it would need a subsidy of £73m over the next five years to keep it afloat. In a speech last November, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, highlighted Mid-Staffordshire as an exemplar of the “crisis in care”.

Colin Ovington, director of nursing at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said yesterday: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to poor patient care and we take immediate appropriate action.

“We cannot emphasise strongly enough that this incident is exceptional and apologise again to the family. We want other hospitals to learn from this incident so that we can be sure that it does not happen to any other baby.”

A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said: “Officers from our Protecting Vulnerable People Department are at the early stages of investigating a complaint concerning the treatment of a baby boy by a member of staff at Stafford Hospital earlier this month.

“We are liaising closely with his family and the NHS trust concerning the matter.”