Doctors lose 'heartless' bid to shut down inquest into chemo underdosing deaths

Senior doctors connected to SA Health's chemotherapy bungle have lost their last-minute bid to have the coronial inquest into the deaths of four patients shut down.

Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel has been investigating the deaths of Christopher McRae, 67, Anne Pinxteren, 76, Bronte Ormond Higham, 68, and Carol Bairnsfather, 70, who died after they were underdosed during their chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre between 2014 and 2015.

After two years of evidence, about 20 witnesses and a mountain of legal fees, the inquest was scheduled to finish last month, leaving Mr Schapel to deliberate his findings.

Instead, counsel representing two senior doctors launched a complex legal argument challenging the coroner's power to investigate the deaths and make findings.

Photo Deputy South Australian Coroner, Anthony Schapel, has ruled he does have the jurisdiction to investigate and make findings into the deaths of four patients.

Deputy South Australian Coroner Anthony Schapel Emma Pedler: ABC

Darrell Trimm QC last month argued Mr Schapel did not have the jurisdiction to make any findings because Mr McRae and Ms Pinxteren did not meet the definition of "reportable deaths" under the Coroner's Act.

He said the subsequent deaths of Mr Higham and Ms Bairnsfather, which were later added to the inquest, were only reported to the coroner because the inquest was already underway.

"The inquest has not been properly constituted from the beginning," Mr Trimm said.

"Your Honour has joined the subsequent two deaths to an inquest that from its inception was not within your power."

Mr Trimm also argued the deaths were not reportable in light of expert evidence which found the dosage of the chemotherapy drug Cytarabine they received would not have impacted their chance of survival.

But on Friday, Mr Schapel ruled he does have the jurisdiction and the inquest will continue.

Photo Andrew Knox was also a patient who was given an incorrect chemotherapy dosage.

Andrew Knox - who was given an incorrect chemotherapy dosage. ABC News

"They are reportable deaths ... and for that reason the court will now proceed to hear submissions in relation to the issues of cause and circumstances of the four deaths," Mr Schapel said.

"The court will then deliver its findings in relation to those issues."

Andrew Knox, who was also underdosed and nearly died after he relapsed, welcomed the coroner's decision.

"It's a relief, we had hoped for this outcome, I believe it was an ill-conceived application in the first place taken by a group of doctors who put themselves before their patients," he said.

"They have done so at the expense of confidence in the medical profession as a whole."

Mr Knox questioned the doctors' motives, describing their attempt to shut down the inquest at the last minute as "legal but not moral".

"It put the families and the victims through an enormous amount of unnecessary trauma again and I think that's quite heartless," he said.

"[I encourage them] to go back and revisit what they started medicine for, to go back and remember that they did it to help patients, not themselves."

Mr Knox said if the doctors' bid had been successful, two years of evidence and anguish for the families would have been for nothing.

"The dragging out of this matter in particular over the last three or four weeks because of this jurisdictional challenge has taken a huge toll on us all," he said.

The coroner has scheduled to hear closing submissions later this month, however, the doctors could still appeal against the decision which would see the inquest delayed further.

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