IN an incredible mix-up that will cause further embarrassment for the already beleaguered Southern Health Board, a mother was given the wrong baby at Tralee General Hospital on New Year s Day, it has been confirmed.

The error occurred last Wednesday in the six-bed maternity ward which was full at the time.

It has been established that members of the midwifery staff gave the baby to the wrong mother and red-faced Health Board officials and hospital management have already apologised to both families involved.

The woman held the baby in her arms only for seconds, according to Tralee General Hospital general manager, Marjorie Lynch.

A spokesperson for the Southern Health Board said the incident occurred in "less than one minute" and that the situation was rectified immediately.

"Both mother and baby are fine," the spokesperson said.

But the error couldn t have come at a worse time for the Southern Health Board who came under heavy fire last November when a distraught mum discovered another woman breast-feeding her son at a Cork hospital after another baby mix-up.

Meanwhile, management at Tralee General Hospital and the Health Board have explained the circumstances behind the latest mix-up which comes just months after a high-tech baby tagging system was introduced in Tralee to avoid such errors.

It has emerged that at 11pm last Wednesday night, a nurse approached the mother of the child but gave the baby to the mother who was next to her.

"The mother nestled the baby and the nurse immediately noticed that it was the wrong baby and took the baby and gave it to its mother," a spokesperson remarked.

"As a matter of course, professional counselling was also offered," the statement read.

The Southern Health Board stated that it deeply regrets what occurred at Tralee General Hospital and said all babies are tagged with identification tags and procedures are in place to prevent this type of occurrence from happening.

"The SHB will be insisting that these procedures are rigidly followed from here on," the statement added.

Last October a new procedure was put in place where babies born at Tralee General Hospital were immediately fitted with electronic tags which enable them to be traced in the event of a snatch attempt.

Tralee General Hospital manager, Marjorie Lynch, apologised for the incident and reassured the Kerry public that it would not occur again.

She said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of babies born at the regional hospital over the last number of years with 1,458 babies born at the hospital last year.

But concern is growing that this incident is the second baby mix-up in the Southern Health Board area in a period of three months.

In November of last year an investigation was launched after two newborn babies were given to the wrong mothers by staff at St Finbarr s Hospital in Cork.

The mix-up was discovered when one of the mums noticed the number on her child s tag did not match her own.

Teresa McGrath (22) from Mitchelstown, Co Cork then discovered another woman was breastfeeding her son.

The woman, who had the same surname, had been given the wrong baby early that morning.

It is believed that Ms McGrath is to take legal action against the Board because of the stress and trauma endured.