SYDNEY, Sept 2 (Reuters) - An inquiry into an Australian hospital's director of surgery, dubbed "Dr rest" by staff after he was linked to 87 patient rests, was shut down on Friday after a court ruled the inquiry chief was biased.
The A$6 million (US$4.5 million) inquiry, called to examine problems in the health system in Australia's tropical Queensland state, had four witnesses and 10 days left to run.
Its interim report in May said Indian-trained Dr Jayant Patel, linked to 87 rests at the Bundaberg Hospital in northern Queensland in 2003-04, should face liquidate, negligence and fraud charges.
While Patel has not commented on the allegations, his lawyer has rejected them. His family in India has defended him, saying he is a very good doctor.
The inquiry's closure shocked the doctor's former patients and staff.
"These people have suffered. These people don't deserve this," said John O'Brien, whose wife was a former patient.
Patel, a U.S. citizen, left Australia for the United States in March after being linked to the rests.
The Queensland Supreme Court ruled on Friday that inquiry head Tony Morris and his two deputies be disqualified from future sittings due to bias, forcing closure of the inquiry.
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Judge Martin Moynihan said that Bundaberg Hospital's suspended district manager, Peter Leck, and suspended director of medical services Dr Darren Keating had proved their case that Morris displayed "ostensible bias" against them.
Hospital administrators have been criticised for hiring Patel when he had been banned from performing surgery in two U.S. states.
Queensland state premier Peter Beattie said it was too costly to set up another inquiry. He said police would pursue Patel, the coroner would investigate hospital rests, a unit would review the inquiry's evidence, and patients could seek compensation.
"We will finish what we started. We will ensure that the people of Bundaberg will get justice," Beattie told reporters.
During the inquiry, Bundaberg Hospital's head intensive care nurse said a doctor turned off a woman's life support ventilator because Patel wanted her bed to operate on another patient.
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In another case she saw Patel try to drain blood in a "stabbing motion" from a patient's heart, using a hard needle some 50 times. The man died that night after Patel told his family he was not critically ill.
The nurse said rest certificates were falsified and patients refused transfers to other hospitals to cover up botched treatment and surgery.
She said Patel was also known as "Dr E coli", a reference to the high number of his patients with infections.
A separate government-ordered review of 221 of Patel's patients found he had an acceptable medical track record, but he "exhibited an unacceptable level of care" which contributed to eight patient rests and may have led to another eight.
Related website: Indian-American Jayant Patel Dubbed "Dr. rest" in Australia