Checks in place to avoid baby mix-up

SINGAPORE - Hospitals in Singapore have strict and robust procedures in place to ensure that newborn babies go home with the correct parents, with at least one hospital going the extra mile.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital has an enhanced tagging system that automatically matches baby to mother. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was introduced there about a year ago as part of its continual efforts to improve work processes. At the point of delivery, matching RFID tags are attached to both baby and mother.

When both are brought together, a pleasant chime sounds. But, when a baby is accidentally given to another mother, an alarm is set off. These tags remain till the point of discharge, said Dr Kelvin Loh, chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

"Our hospitals have robust processes in place and a system of checks which are conducted by experienced nursing staff," said a spokesman for Parkway Pantai Group, which the hospital comes under.

Other hospitals My Paper contacted also said that they have a strict and robust system in place to prevent baby mix-ups, and that the recent incident at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) was a one-off case.

Over the weekend, a couple found that the newborn boy they had taken home belonged to another couple, who had taken home their baby. Both boys were reunited with their biological parents within hours, after blood tests were done.

KKH CEO Kenneth Kwek told My Paper yesterday that the hospital has "many processes and checks in place to ensure the right pairing of babies with their mothers".

He said the mix-up was due to a string of human errors.

The Health Ministry said it is working with KKH to "review its processes to prevent any recurrence". A National University Hospital spokesman said parents should verify the accuracy of the details on tags, and be involved when nurses check them, especially at the point of discharge.

A mix-up can be traumatic for mothers, said Dr Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre. They may "feel guilty that they had cuddled and nursed a baby that was not their biological child".

Lawyer Christopher Bridges told My Paper that, in general, affected parents could file a lawsuit against the hospital, seeking compensation for "mental anguish".

But it can be difficult to quantify the parents' sense of loss in monetary terms, said Characterist LLC lawyer Lee Terk Yang.

Ms Grace Tan, mother of a five-month-old boy, said that parents should check with the nurses before leaving the hospital with their newborn babies.

However, teacher Annette Chan, 27, had no problems recognising her child. She gave birth seven months ago, and remembered some "subtle features" about her girl, such as her long fingers and the shape of her ears.

"Some people say that all babies look the same, but I don't think so, especially when it comes to your own," she said.


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