SA chemo bungle inquest could be shut down

Kathryn Bermingham

Doctors involved in an inquest into the deaths of four cancer patients given incorrect doses of chemotherapy are expected to argue the coroner has no power to investigate and the inquiry should be dropped.

Since mid-2016, Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel has been looking into the deaths of leukaemia patients Christopher McRae, Bronte Higham, Carol Bairnsfather and Johanna Pinxteren.

All four were among 10 patients who were underdosed during their chemotherapy treatment at the RAH or at the Flinders Medical Centre between July 2014 and January 2015.

The inquest was due to hear closing submissions on Thursday, but Daryl Trim QC, representing the doctors, has flagged he will instead argue the Coroner has no authority to investigate the matter.

Andrew Knox, one of the patients affected, said the argument would be based around the degree to which the deaths were caused by the underdosing.

"They say that the consolidation therapy that we got, in a nutshell, was never going to work, and they knew it was never going to work," he told ABC Radio Adelaide on Wednesday.

"That then raises the extraordinary ethical question of why put us through this dreadful treatment if they knew it wasn't going to work?"

Mr Knox said he expected the matter to go to the Supreme Court should the inquest be allowed to proceed.

He said the situation was especially disheartening given the families had already sat through "weeks and weeks" of apologies at the inquest.

"It's absolutely dreadful, particularly for the families who lost their loved ones," he said.

"It's totally unconscionable for people to sit in the witness box, to apologise in the one breath and then instruct their lawyers, in the next breath, to say 'close this hearing down'."

Mr Knox indicated that, if the inquest was shut down, the families involved would lobby for a royal commission.

"There has to be an end to this type of behaviour where professional conscience and public confidence don't seem to meet," he said.