The shock death of a grandmother, who was being treated for a painful neck injury, is set to go under the microscope in an inquest.
The shock death of a grandmother, who was being treated for a painful neck injury, is set to go under the microscope in an inquest.

‘Potentially lethal’: Probe into death after doctor visit

A CAIRNS grandmother may have been unintentionally prescribed a potentially lethal mix of drugs to treat a painful neck injury just prior to her shock death.

Medical receptionist Margaret Cahill was 61 when she died on September 13, 2017 after going into cardiac arrest in her Redlynch home two days earlier and never regaining consciousness.

A pre-inquest hearing in the Cairns Coroner's Court heard on Tuesday she was being treated by a doctor in the McLeod St Medical practice where she worked for a nerve root compression in her neck.

Counsel assisting the Coroner Joseph Crawfoot told the court she suffered a "flare up" of the condition in July 2017 and was initially prescribed oxynorm by Dr Barbara Gynther and sent for an MRI.

Two weeks later she was given a steroid injection which provided some relief, but returned to see the doctor on August 31 after her symptoms returned and was prescribed opioid painkiller tapentadol.

The court was told she again returned to Dr Gynther alongside husband Brian on November 11 with a "higher intensity of pain", was given an intra-muscle dose of morphine and was driven home and put in bed.

Mr Crawfoot told the court the doctor stayed in contact with Mr Cahill during the day to monitor her, but just after 1am that night he called triple-0 after she became unresponsive and began CPR.

Mrs Cahill was admitted into Cairns Hospital's intensive care unit but died the following morning.

Mr Crawfoot said her death was attributed to multiple drug intoxication with levels in the "potentially lethal range".

He said the inquest would hear from Professor Olaf Drummer, a pharmacologist and toxicologist with the Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University.

"(He found) the combined effect of the tapentadol and morphine was largely responsible for Mrs Cahill's death," he said.

The inquest, which is due to be held in December, is set to examine the details around the death, the circumstances around her pain management and the emergency response.

Mrs Cahill's sister and daughter dialled into the hearing remotely from interstate and Coroner Nerida Wilson extended her condolences for their "tragic loss".

"I trust that in the course of the inquest the facts of the matter become clear," she said.

"This is not a process which is used as a vehicle for any criminal or civil findings.

"It is a process whereby the community places a value on human life."

Mr Cahill, Dr Gynther, a nurse at the practice, Prof Drummer and another medical expert are due to give evidence during the three-day inquest.

Originally published as 'Potentially lethal': Grandmother's death after doctor visits probed