Charlie Teo slapped unconscious patient across face in front of family, inquiry hears
Controversial neurosurgeon Charlie Teo slapped his unconscious patient across the face in front of her family in a “totally unacceptable” act that was “actually assault”, fellow neurosurgeons told a disciplinary hearing.
“Totally unacceptable,” said Professor Paul D’Urso. “There is no circumstance…where that would ever be appropriate.”
“It’s actually assault,” said Professor Bryant Stokes.
Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo and his partner Traci Griffiths outside the hearing this week.Credit:Wolter Peeters
A third expert witness, associate professor Andrew Morokoff, said slapping a patient was a “social and cultural insult” and had no place in medical procedure regardless of whether the family was present.
The slap took place at Prince of Wales Private Hospital in Sydney on 26 February 2019.
Professor Bryant Stokes.
The previous day Teo had operated on the Geelong woman’s brain stem glioma. When she failed to regain consciousness, the inquiry heard Teo slapped the 61-year-old woman across the face in an attempt to rouse her.
Her horrified daughter told the inquiry that when he couldn’t wake her mother, Teo demanded that intensive care staff “put her in the bloody chair, tie her with sheets if you have to.”
The woman’s husband has told the inquiry that his wife decided to go ahead with the operation after Teo said to the Geelong couple that unless she had surgery on the following Tuesday, she would be “f—ing dead by Friday”, her husband told the hearing.
The woman died the following month.
Associate Professor Andrew Morokoff.
Outside the hearing, Teo told waiting media it was only a light tap and suggested doctors do it all the time to awaken patients.
The Health Care Complaints Commission’s professional standards committee inquiry is hearing two complaints of unsatisfactory conduct by Teo including that he did not sufficiently inform patients about the risks of their surgeries.
The three experts said that Teo’s operation on the 61-year-old woman had resulted in the largest removal of brain matter they had ever seen. Teo took out most of the right frontal lobe, removing normal brain tissue and leaving behind a significant amount of the tumour.
“I have been practising since 1965 and this would be one of the largest resections that I have seen,” said Stokes.
Professot Paul D’Urso.
Because of Teo’s excessive resection, Morokoff said that Teo’s standards fell significantly below the accepted standard of practice and that the risk/benefit ratio of this surgery was not worthwhile.
Morokoff also said there were no potential benefits from another operation Teo performed in October 2018 when he undertook a “radical resection” of a woman with a high-grade brain stem glioma.
Stokes said that while Teo was a “very accomplished neurosurgeon” the serious risks of death or coma far outweighed any potential benefits of surgery.
The Perth husband of this patient said he and his wife were “desperate” when informed in 2018 that she had only 12 to 18 months to live. Her initial neurosurgeons had said her tumour was inoperable.
The husband took notes of the October 2018 consultation with Teo who said there was a 5 per cent risk of death and a 50 per cent risk of minor complications, such as a wonky eye and tingling down one side.
The surgery was a disaster with his wife left in a vegetative state, the hearing was told. She died months later.
Morokoff said there was no statistical data, or medical literature or clinical guidelines which supported Teo’s operation on the Perth woman. He also said that Teo’s description of a 5 per cent risk of death was “falsely low.”
Before Wednesday’s hearing commenced, Teo claimed outside the tribunal that the two men who have complained about the disastrous outcomes of his surgeries on their late wives may have been coerced or hoodwinked into giving evidence against him.
Speaking to media outside the hearing, Teo said: “Both of those gentlemen, I loved them … [they] called me Charlie and we had a good relationship.”
The controversial neurosurgeon said that he had seen the Perth man’s original complaint and that it was about the medical system and not about him.
But then a rival doctor got to him, Teo said. He told the media that the doctor said to the husband: “Oh, no, no, no, you need to complain about the doctor doing futile surgery.”
“I feel like they’ve been coerced. I feel like they’ve been hoodwinked,” Teo said of the two men who have complained.
“Don’t destroy people like me, don’t destroy the scientists, don’t destroy other people trying to do something to brain cancer. It’s a tragedy.”
Ahead of the hearing, Teo made similar claims in a podcast with businessman and former host of Celebrity Apprentice Australia, Mark Bouris.
He alleged that one of the doctors complaining about him is “in competition with me”. The surgeon also claimed that he was “being judged by your enemies … it’s totally stacked”.
He told Bouris that the worst thing about being “subjected to all this vexatious vilification by colleagues” is that it sends a message to “all those good, young, aggressive neurosurgeons” that “if you try and do what Charlie does, this is what’s going to happen to you”.
Teo, who will be giving evidence at his disciplinary hearing, told the media on Wednesday that “even those patients that are complaining, now, I did it in their best interest, thinking it was going to help them, it didn’t”.
Asked if he regretted the two surgeries, Teo replied, “Absolutely not.” He said what he was going through was soul-destroying. “I’ve devoted my life to my patients. I mean, you don’t, you don’t survive 35 years in the game doing the world’s most difficult brain tumours.”
He also suggested other neurosurgeons were jealous of his skills and had set out to destroy him, when they should’ve been thinking: “Oh, my God, he’s doing something different. He’s getting good results. And we’re going to have to upskill now.”
Of the current proceedings against him, Teo told the podcast last week that: “It’s got nothing to do with fairness, what’s right or wrong. It’s all got to do with people’s agendas. And the agenda is to destroy Charlie Teo.”
“I know that I’ve got this skill … I take out tumours that no one else can take out. And all the surgeons around the world that watch me are just absolutely amazed by it. So when I operate in other countries, I get four or five or 10 or 20 neurosurgeons watching it, and they just are blown away by it.”
However, he agreed with Bouris that in Australia “the Tall Poppy syndrome” prevented his skills from being appreciated by his colleagues, the podcast heard.
The hearing continues.
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