Sydney-based Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital is suing a gas company after several incidents involving a gas mix-up costing one newborn baby boy his life and leaving another newborn baby girl with serious brain injuries.

The incident stemmed from the mix-up between oxygen and nitrous oxide running through the hospital lines. Instead of oxygen, the babies were instead supplied with a constant flow of nitrous oxide which led to fatal outcomes.

Cause of death: Lethal nitrous oxide dose

The first incident occurred in June 2016, where baby Amelia Khan was exposed to 60 minutes of nitrous oxide – with the staff believing it to be a supply of oxygen. As a result of the exposure, she has been left with permanent brain damage which requires her to be fed through a tube whilst suffering from constant seizures.

Amelia Khan (pictured) has to be fed through a tube and suffers constant seizures, after being given laughing gas – nitrous oxide – instead of oxygen at Bankstown-Lidcombe hospital. Photo credit: Daily Mail
Amelia Khan (pictured) has to be fed through a tube and suffers constant seizures, after being given laughing gas – nitrous oxide – instead of oxygen at Bankstown-Lidcombe hospital. Photo credit: Daily Mail

Later in July, a similar incident occurred to the baby son of Youssef and Sonya Ghanem – where the baby was given nitrous oxide, instead of oxygen during a neonatal resuscitation. Unlike baby Amelia Khan, baby John was not so lucky – as the dosage of gas proved to be lethal.

The issue was later discovered to be a mix-up between the gas lines of oxygen and nitrous oxide – something that was only discovered several weeks later by a paediatrician working at the hospital. By that time, the damage had been done and two babies had been exposed to nitrous oxide with serious results.

Legal battle ensues

As a result of the incident, both families have taken legal action towards the hospital – filing a lawsuit for the cost of medical expenses and damages. In a statement released by the Khan family, the suffering of their daughter is something they would not be able to get over with.

“She will always have to live with the consequences of what was done to her at the hospital,” – the statement read.

“But we will always be by her side and we'll do everything we can to give her the best possible future.”

The Ghanem family who lost baby John also felt similarly – particularly for the mother, Sonya Ghanem, who did not have the chance to see her baby son before he passed away.

Unfortunately, under Australian law, the parents of children who die as a result of negligence may only recover damages if they are able to prove that the event has caused significant mental distress leading to recognised psychiatric illness. In other words, there is no compensation for grief, distress and sadness.

Hospital blames gas company and worker

This situation has led to Health Minister Jillian Skinner coming under fire with calls for resignation. Nevertheless, Skinner said she would not resign over the error citing the issue a “complex and highly sensitive legal matter”.

Skinner also went on to reassure the public that the healthcare system is doing the best it can to prevent such issue from ever occurring – and that they have checked every operation theatre and resuscitation bay to ensure such a tragedy never repeats itself.

In response to the incident, the hospital where it all occurred, Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, is suing the gas company BOC Limited and the gas installer Christopher Turner – holding them responsible for the incident.

If the case is successful, both Turner and BOC will be liable for the hospital’s investigation of and appearance at the upcoming coronial inquest of the death of baby John Ghanem.

While the hospital does admit its mistake of having failed to appropriately witness the works done to the gas line, the responsibility for the incident is being put squarely on the shoulders of the gas company and its installer. MIMS

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