Death of baby girl from morphine overdose being investigated


Three staff members at leading children's hospital have been suspended and interviewed under police caution over the death of a baby girl allegedly as a result of a massive morphine overdose.

A police spokesman confirmed: "South Yorkshire Police is currently investigating the death of a two-month-old child following admission to Sheffield Children's Hospital. The investigation regarding the administration of a controlled drug is ongoing, and officers are waiting for the results of a pathology report."

Medical Negligence

Police are currently awaiting the results of pathology tests and an inquest has been opened. The purpose of an Inquest is to establish the cause of death; it is not to apportion blame.

The child was admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties, and died in her mother’s arms. Detectives took her body for a post-mortem examination as her family prepared for her funeral.

Initially, her parents thought that she had lost her fight for life against rare genetic condition Edwards' Syndrome which occurs when a child is born with 3 copies of chromosome 18, rather than the usual 2. Most babies die before birth, and the condition often causes trouble with feeding and breathing. However, they were subsequently informed that detectives were investigating whether their child was given 10 times the correct dose of morphine in hospital - a 3.5mg dose instead of the correct 0.35mg.

A hospital spokeswoman said: "We have been notified by the police that they are investigating a death at the hospital on December 17. As this is a police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

The child's mother said "She was such a beautiful baby, and very much loved." She added: "I know she was going to die anyway. But we didn't think it was her time."

Drug administration forms a major part of the clinical nurse's role. Medicines are prescribed by the doctor and dispensed by the pharmacist but responsibility for correct administration rests with the registered nurse - each registered nurse is accountable for his/her practice.

There are a number of pieces of legislation that relate to prescribing, supply, storage and administration of drugs and it is essential that nurses comply with them. The guidelines also state that when controlled drugs are being administered it is necessary for a second practitioner to check the drug and dosage in order to minimise the risk of error. The patient is expected to receive the correct medication at each drug round, but several studies have shown that this is not always the case.

Medication errors do occur and are a persistent problem associated with nursing practice. Studies have found that 72% of medication errors were due to staff not following policies and procedures.

It should however be remembered that just as nurses are legally accountable for the drugs that they administer, prescriptions are the legal responsibility of the doctor. Nurses frequently come across poorly written and illegible prescriptions which conflict with policies for the safe administration of medications.

It is clear from the sad case above that drug errors can have catastrophic and far reaching consequences.

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