Hospital will not discipline staff over baby mix-up

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THE HOSPITAL at the centre of a baby mix-up case has admitted responsibility but ruled out disciplinary action against staff.

The two couples who took the wrong babies home from the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton have said that they intend to sue after a report into the muddle highlighted the role of unqualified staff, inadequate supervision and failure to follow correct procedures.

John Miller, the hospital's clinical director, said that while there was 'clearly human error - or at least omission', everyone involved in the incident had 'probably punished themselves more than enough already'.

Tony Bursey, 47, the father of one of the children, said he was angry that no disciplinary action was being taken. He and Marie Coyle, 27, mother of the other baby involved, confirmed that they would be seeking compensation for the emotional trauma they had suffered. Mr Bursey said: 'This will never go away as long as I live.' The mistake had 'literally crippled my wife'.

The possibility of a mix-up was discovered after the mothers had taken their babies home, and DNA tests subsequently confirmed the mistake.

Jeanne Perons, chairman of the panel investigating the incident, said she was confident that the two babies were with their own mothers from the point of birth until they were taken to the hospital nursery on the night of 24 November several hours later.

At some time between 10.30pm and 6am the next day she believes that both babies were out of their cots at the same time then returned to the wrong cots.

Babies at the hospital are fitted with name tags to the arm and leg, which should be checked every time the baby is moved. This procedure was not adhered to by unqualified staff, who were not adequately supervised. Both babies subsequently lost wrist tags and the correct procedure for relabelling was not followed, so that a further opportunity to spot the original error was lost. Unqualified staff, who had not received the necessary instruction, were also involved in the relabelling.

The report looked at other forms of identifying new-born babies, such as foot or finger printing, attaching adhesive labels to the babies trunk, or marking babies with indelible ink. But it concluded that tags with the mother's name were the best answer.

Mr Miller said that the hospital had strengthened its identification procedures by introducing two ankle bracelets, instead of tagging one ankle and one wrist. He also said that better training and more rigorous monitoring of the procedures had also been introduced.

The hospital's personnel department is examining the balance of qualified and unqualified staff and its consequence for supervision after questions raised by the report. The committee of inquiry said that it had decided not to identify staff involved in the interests of receiving full co-operation.

Mr Miller said that disciplinary action would not serve the interests of either the hospital or the families involved.

'The report highlights what I call system failure as being at the root of the incident, rather than any action or actions by individuals,' he said.