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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 16:11 GMT
Worker suspended over lost baby
Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup
The hospital has carried out "a full internal inquiry"
A hospital in Kent which temporarily lost the remains of a dead baby has revealed it suspended a mortuary worker after the error.

Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup said the male worker, who has not been named, had returned to work - under close supervision.

The remains of baby James Fernandez were put through a hot wash after he went missing from the hospital.

The prime minister's official spokesman said Tony Blair "sympathises greatly" with the trauma suffered by the baby's family.
Patrick Kelly
(Pic courtesy of GMTV) Patrick Kelly: "Horrified"

The baby's father, Patrick Kelly, has refused to accept an apology from the hospital.

Mr Kelly's son, who died from natural causes an hour after he was delivered, went missing from the hospital mortuary four days before his funeral.

The hospital's chief executive, Helen Moffatt, said: "The laundry basket within the mortuary was right next to a cabinet where the bodies of babies were kept and this combination has led to the mistake.

"I offer my unreserved apology to the family.

"They have been through the most horrible and distressing time since this mistake was made.

Ms Moffatt said procedures were changed immediately so that bodies moved from the cabinet were placed on a trolley, not on the floor.

Ms Moffatt said a further inquiry was being carried out by the hospital to ensure that procedures and personal practice were "vigorously" investigated.

"The staff there [the mortuary] have been incredibly distressed and have been very energetic in solving the problem and making the changes to stop this kind of mistake ever happening again."

Stringent measures

The mistake was discovered when undertakers went to collect the body in December.

A police investigation found the child's body on a conveyor belt at an industrial cleaning firm, Sunlight Healthcare Services, in Brixton, south London.

The trust has apologised ... this does not excuse it but it's worth remembering this is the exception not the rule

Tony Blair's official spokesman
Mr Kelly, 36, said: "He [a police officer] told me James had been put through a washing cycle for contaminated clothes from the mortuary which meant it had to go on the hottest wash.

"I was horrified. I asked whether James was in one piece and he told me that he was but had suffered lots of fractures."

The baby's 25-year-old mother Amaia Fernandez had the rare blood disorder toxoplasmosis. She has since returned to her parents' home in northern Spain to recover.

The family, from Swanley, Kent, are considering legal action.

PM's sorrow

The funeral of the baby, who was only 1lb 1oz when he was born 17 weeks premature, was held on 3 January in Lewisham, south-east London.

The official spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "This has been very distressing for the parents following on from their bereavement.

"The trust has apologised and we sympathise greatly with what they have had to go through.

"This does not excuse it but it's worth remembering this is the exception not the rule.

"The NHS on the whole delivers very, very high quality care in relation to maternity and child services."

A special meeting of the trust board five days ago accepted the recommendations of a draft report into the incident and the family were advised of the findings.

The trust said it was now investigating who, if anyone, should be held responsible for the incident.

Derek Conway, Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, said reassurances needed to be given by ministers that stringent measures where in place across the NHS for dealing with bodies.

"I believe the minister for health needs to assure Parliament that the NHS procedures for dealing with those that have deceased in hospital custody are properly regulated and monitored."

The BBC's Karen Allen
"The grim details of what happened defy belief"
The BBC's Geraint Vincent
"An unbelievable chain of events"
Queen Mary's Chief Executive Helen Moffatt
"We apologise for the distress we have caused"

Click here to go to Kent
See also:

30 Jan 02 | England
'Too little too late', says father
13 Aug 01 | Health
Stillborns buried in mass graves
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