Charlie Teo unable to secure letter of support from Australian, NZ colleagues, hearing told

Not a single neurosurgeon in Australia or New Zealand has provided a letter of support for embattled neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, his disciplinary inquiry has heard.

Ten overseas neurosurgeons had offered letters of support for Teo but when he sought support from one Australian and one New Zealand neurosurgeon he received no reply, the inquiry heard.

Charlie Teo arriving at a disciplinary hearing in Sydney this week.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Kate Richardson, SC, representing the Health Care Complaints Commission, submitted to a four-person Professional Standards Committee that Teo should be reprimanded and have further conditions placed on his medical certificate as a result of catastrophic outcomes on two of his patients.

Teo’s barrister Matthew Hutchings submitted that the severity of conditions being proposed by the HCCC would be the equivalent of suspending his practising certificate.

In August 2021, the NSW Medical Council placed conditions on Teo’s ability to practise. Teo was not allowed to perform any “recurrent malignant intracranial tumour and brain stem tumour surgical procedures” unless he obtained written approval from an independent neurosurgeon of 20 years’ standing who has to be approved by the Medical Council.

The supervising neurosurgeon had to be satisfied Teo had explained to the patient “all material risks” and had obtained “informed financial consent” from his patient.

However, Teo has not been able to find a supervisor. He has previously said that those neurosurgeons who were willing to supervise were unable to do so because their malpractice insurers would not cover them for Teo-associated operations.

Richardson for the HCCC has submitted that the neurosurgeon had made up evidence “opportunistically” or changed his evidence as the hearing unfolded.

“He is not a witness of credit and his evidence should not be accepted unless corroborated,” she said.

Hutchings said it would be “wholly inappropriate” for the committee to reject any evidence that Teo has given unless it was corroborated, as the commission has asked. He said that the blanket rejection of his evidence was “plainly an untenable position”.

Teo’s barrister also said that many of the complaints about the conduct and outcome of the operations showed “hindsight bias”.

He said that what Teo hoped to achieve with his operations as opposed as to what he encountered while in surgery were different things.

The inquiry has heard from experts that the brain stem tumours of two patients he operated on were ones in which the risks far outweighed any benefits. Both patients were in a vegetative state following surgery and later died.

The husband of a Victorian patient has said, “All my savings and superannuation went on saving my wife. I had to sell our house and move into a retirement village.” He also said that he’s paid Teo “$35,000 for my wife to die.”

The families have complained that they did not give consent to the surgeries Teo performed nor were they told the extreme risks involved.

Hutchings submitted that just because Teo didn’t agree with the experts who had given evidence did not make his client wrong.

The committee heard that 10 overseas neurosurgeons had offered letters of support for Teo, but he received no reply when he asked for support from one Australian and one New Zealand neurosurgeon.

The inquiry heard that 47 former patients and their families had provided letters of support.

At this point, Charlie Meo, from Melbourne, whose late mother was a patient of Teo’s, stood in the public gallery with his hand raised.

“I’ve got to go and get medical attention but I just want to say a few words,” he said.

The committee’s chair Jennifer Boland, said that while she understood his motives for wanting to speak, Teo had an “excellent legal team” who would be doing that for him.

Meo replied, “I wasn’t inducted and I didn’t know the rules.”

The inquiry continues.

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