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Charlie Teo: neurosurgeon found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct | Australia news

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Charlie Teo: neurosurgeon found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct | Australia news

Neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo has been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct by a professional standards committee which found he inappropriately charged $35,000 to a vulnerable patient who died following her surgery and engaged in other “improper conduct”.

The decision, released on Wednesday and spanning 112 pages, said Teo was reprimanded and had conditions placed on his registration.

The renowned but controversial surgeon will need to get written support from another specialist before performing certain procedures after the investigation by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.

The health watchdog looked into complaints relating to two patients diagnosed with terminal brain tumours.

Neither patient regained consciousness after surgery undertaken in 2018 and 2019 at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Private hospital and both later died in hospital – one 10 days after surgery and the other several months later.

During eight days of hearings earlier this year, Teo faced accusations of wrongdoing in that he misled patients, conducted dangerous surgeries and failed to properly inform them or their families of the risks involved.

A medical professional standards committee has found the doctor decided to operate on two patients “where the risk of surgery outweighed any potential benefits of the surgery”.

The committee found he did not obtain informed consent from the patients prior to surgery, and charged an inappropriate fee of $35,000 to one prior to the surgery, as well as speaking inappropriately to the same patient’s daughter post-surgery. Teo told her: “Would I do it all over again? Fucking oath I would. You should be grateful. I’ve given the family extra fucking time.” Teo denied making the comments but the committee found the daughter was a “credible” witness.

“We find it both likely and credible that the practitioner responded in words attributed to him,” Wednesday’s decision stated.

“Overall, we are satisfied it was inappropriate for the practitioner to have charged $35,000 for the surgical procedure where [the patient] was in a position of unequal bargaining power due to her state of vulnerability. We find the charging of the sum of $35,000 was inappropriate and constitutes improper conduct.”

The patient “was distressed and crying at the commencement of the consultation” and “had a very high regard for the practitioner having watched his YouTube videos and, as her husband said, she ‘thought he was God’,” the decision stated.

“She was anxious to extend her life. In these circumstances, we accept she was vulnerable and therefore unable to make a rational decision about the fee to be charged or seek to negotiate a lower fee or different basis of charging.”

The committee ordered that Teo, who is known for taking on risky cases when other surgeons will not operate, must from now on obtain a written statement from a NSW Medical Council-approved neurosurgeon to support him performing recurrent malignant intracranial tumour and brain stem tumour surgical procedures.

“If the written statement does not support Prof Teo performing the procedure(s) he cannot perform the surgery,” the commission said in a statement on Wednesday.

The committee noted it did not consider Teo’s skill in carrying out the surgery “but rather his decision to do so in a situation where the expert evidence is unanimous that the risks outweighed the potential benefits” and in situations where patients were “highly stressed” and “vulnerable”. Teo failed to take proper notes, or to properly inform the patients of what the surgeries entailed, it was found.

With one patient “the surgical strategy led to unwarranted and excessive removal of normal functional brain”, the decision stated.

Teo will now need to advise the Medical Council in writing at least seven days prior to changing the nature or place of his practice.

“We have endeavoured to appropriately balance the health and safety of the public while ensuring that the practitioner can continue to provide his surgical services to patients,” the decision stated.

Despite holding a number of commendable positions and the committee being presented with a number of letters of support from patients and colleagues, Teo “demonstrated a lack of nuanced appreciation of the vulnerability of his patients and likely flaws in their consent or patient autonomy”, the committee found.

“Of greater significance is his lack of reflection on his judgment in offering surgery without supporting statistical data or peer support which, in his own experience, may or may not be proved to have been in error in 10 years’ time. While the practitioner expresses sorrow and takes responsibility for bad surgical outcomes, he does not express any remorse for offering surgery [to the two patients]. This lack of insight into his judgment causes us concern.”

Teo has the right to appeal this decision to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and to seek a review by the Medical Council of the committee’s order to impose conditions.

This article was amended on 13 July 2023 to make clear the professional standards committee is independent of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.

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