Chemotherapy Dosage Scandal: Inquiry To Hear About ‘Culture Of Acceptance’ At St Vincent’s Hospital


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A scandal involving cases of cancer patients who were allegedly given insufficient doses of chemotherapy drugs will be the subject of a NSW parliamentary inquiry starting today.

More than 100 head and neck cancer patients at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital were given incorrect doses of chemotherapy drugs by senior oncologist Dr John Grygiel, according to an earlier investigation carried out by NSW chief cancer officer David Currow.

Another two dozen patients Dr Grygiel treated, at clinics in the west and central west of NSW, were also given inadequate doses of chemotherapy.

While some of his patients have since died, the Currow report said it was not feasible to conclude whether the deaths or survival rates of affected patients could be linked to the dosage mistreatment.

Hospital apologises for cases

In its submission published on the parliamentary website, St Vincent’s Hospital again apologised for the scandal and said the past nine months had been some of the most testing in the hospital’s 160-year history.

“In responding to a doctor’s off-protocol prescription of chemotherapy to a group of head and neck cancer patients, we failed to meet our own high expectations and those of our patients,” it said

The hospital apologised to the patients and families affected and conceded that it failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

“In the department where the problem occurred, we had a culture of acceptance, rather than a culture of challenge,” the submission said.

“We made mistakes … [but] at no point did we intentionally set out to mislead the public or misrepresent the position.”

The hospital said it had put in place a new world-standard electronic medical record and prescribing system, pre-loaded with evidence-based protocols and peer-review requirements.

Senior bureaucrats and clinicians from St Vincent’s will join Professor Currow in giving evidence, with Dr Grygiel expected to appear later in the week.

Patients in show of support for haematologist

The parliamentary inquiry will also examine allegations of under-prescribing of chemotherapy drugs at Sydney’s St George and Sutherland hospitals.

In August, Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced that three patients treated by an oncologist and haematologist at St George and Sutherland hospitals had been given the incorrect cancer treatment and the records of a further 14 patients were being investigated.

But the doctor at the centre of those claims, Kiran Phadke, strenuously denied any wrongdoing, branding statements made against him “false, misleading and potentially defamatory”.

Many of Dr Phadke’s patients supported him in submissions to the inquiry.

“For the two years under his care, I thank Dr Phadke,” said former registered nurse Joy Packer, whose husband died from bowel cancer.

“I did not question his judgment regarding drug dosage and trusted his integrity. I am ashamed to be part of a society that publicly humiliates and ruins the career and family life of a specialist of Dr Phadke’s standing and experience.”

An existing cancer patient, Francis Mawby, wrote in his submission that “one thing that disturbs me is the way some political parties have jumped on the bandwagon to make political gain from the situation”.

It is unclear whether Dr Phadke will give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry which is expected to run for several months.

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