The South Australian Coroner has criticised the North Adelaide Local Health Network for claiming patient privilege and keeping an expert report into the 2016 death of a baby boy secret for almost four years.

Key points:

  • South Australian Coroner David Whittle will hold an inquest into the death of a one-month-old baby
  • Levi Shane Vanin died following a “hypoxic event” during his birth
  • Mr Whittle criticised the health network responsible for keeping a report on Levi’s death under wraps

David Whittle will next week hold a coronial inquest into the death of 29-day-old baby Levi Shane Vanin, who suffered a brain injury from a “hypoxic event” during his birth at the Lyell McEwen Hospital in November 2016.

He said gynaecology expert Alistair MacLennan wrote a report detailing a proposed cause of death in May 2017, recommending it be read by the coroner, Levi’s parents, reporting pathologists and Lyell McEwen obstetricians.

But Mr Whittle today questioned lawyer Lauren Gavranich, who was representing the North Adelaide Local Health Network (NALHN), about why the report did not come to light sooner.

Ms Gavranich replied that the report was not obtained for the coronial inquest and it was privileged.

Mr Whittle fired back, saying he “understands the privilege” but does not understand “the choice to exercise it”.

But Ms Gavranich said she could not go into the reasons for exercising the privilege because that too was covered by privilege.

“I find it disappointing, to say the least, and disappointment is an inadequate way of describing my concern,” Mr Whittle told the court.

“There was a proposed cause of death in the report — one would think that the interests of the baby’s parents in knowing the opinion of Professor MacLennan might have prevailed over any notions of privilege.

“One would think that the willingness to assist in the investigation by the coroner might have prevailed over notions of privilege.

“I’m at a loss to understand why I cannot be told why because the reasons are privileged.

“But if you understand that I am unimpressed, you understand correctly.

“It seems to me the court is being treated as a participant in an inter-party adversarial litigation, which is not the way the court operates.”

‘Disparity of views’ an issue

Mr Whittle said the focus of the inquest would finding “common ground” between Professor MacLennan and Roger Pepperell, who had both provided reports to the coroner about what led to Levi’s death.

“The difficulty created by the disparity of views is the major technical issue arising in this inquest,” Mr Whittle said.

Counsel assisting the coroner Ahura Kalali said Professor Pepperell’s opinion had changed and “now the incubation is not an issue and it wasn’t the cause of the hypoxic event”.

“They would confer and provide a report to the court as to what issues they agree with and what issues they don’t agree with so we can narrow down the issues.”