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NSW minister quizzed over baby gas mix-up

AAP logoAAP 30/08/2016 Daniel McCulloch

Besieged NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has faced torrid questioning over her handling of a fatal western Sydney hospital gas scandal during a fiery budget estimates hearing.

A baby boy died and a newborn girl suffered suspected brain damage after they were mistakenly given nitrous oxide instead of oxygen at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital in June and July this year.

Ms Skinner defended her decision to avoid the media when a report into the catastrophic bungle was released publicly on Saturday.

New South Wales Health Minister Jillian Skinner © Provided by AAP New South Wales Health Minister Jillian Skinner

The report found "a series of tragic errors" including incorrect installations of gas pipelines, flawed testings and significant clinical and management failures caused the deadly error.

"I wanted the focus to be on the findings of the chief health officer (Dr Kerry Chant). This was her report. It's a really important report," Ms Skinner told the hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

"Do you think it was a mistake, that you should have fronted up with Dr Chant?" Labor health spokesman Walt Secord asked the minister.

"No I don't. I did it deliberately because I wanted the focus to be on her report, on the findings that would give confidence to the public that the system was safe," Ms Skinner told the committee.

"If I had been there, that would not have been the focus. By not being there, that was the focus. That was what the media was reporting."

Ms Skinner said she eventually agreed to front television crews after several requests late on Saturday afternoon because by then "there had been enough time for the media to absorb the matters in (the) report".

The embattled health minister also faced a string of questions about embarrassing "mix ups" in the NSW health system.

In late 2015 the identities of two babies, one that was miscarried and one stillborn, were confused at a mortuary, the committee was told.

One of the babies was incorrectly identified with a blanket label, leading staff to believe it was the other baby.

In another incident from April this year, a woman visiting the Royal North Shore Hospital discovered someone else's identification tags were on her 89-year-old mother's body in a mortuary bag.

Ms Skinner told the committee she hadn't heard of any mix-ups involving dead patients this year, despite visiting the hospital about a month ago.

"I'm devastated for them and I'm really sorry that such an incident occurred," she said.

Ms Skinner also confirmed she has refused to meet with a patient affected by a chemotherapy under-dosing scandal at St Vincent's Hospital, despite their request.

"I don't have a hard and fast set protocol, but it would be my inclination to wait until the investigation had been completed (to meet with affected patients)," the minister said.

She told the committee she regretted saying St Vincent's Hospital "lied" about the scandal, conceding it was too harsh and she should have instead said they "misled" the public through the media.

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