More than 60,000 people have signed an online petition calling for controversial neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo to be allowed to operate in public hospitals.
Debate has erupted over the six-figure fees paid to Dr Teo after Sydney University Professor Henry Woo tweeted about the number of crowd-funding campaigns raising money for his treatment.
Dr Teo hit back at the criticism last week saying he wasn’t allowed to operate in public hospitals and so patients had to pay to be operated on in private hospitals.
The change.org petition is now lobbying for Dr Teo to be allowed to operate in the public system.
The petition is addressed to WA Health Minister Roger Cook, Premier Mark McGowan, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“Dr Charlie Teo is a medical genius, yet he is vilified by his peers in Australia,” the petition states.
“At present he has not been invited to operate in any public hospitals in Australia, so those that need his expertise have to pay to go into a private hospital.
“Many people don’t know a lot about brain tumours until it affects someone they love, but brain cancer kills more children than any other disease, approximately every seven hours an Australian dies of brain cancer. We need to give them every opportunity, which means having the best access to the best medical treatment.”
The petition comes after Health Minister Greg Hunt warned medical specialists against charging excessive fees.
“It is my expectation, and the expectation of the leaders of the medical profession, that out-of-pocket costs incurred during private hospital treatment are modest, justifiable and proportionate to the circumstances of the patient,” Mr Hunt told The Age on Monday.
Dr Teo has previously said he would be willing to operate on interstate patients in public hospitals but this would only happen if “a few people have swallowed their egos”.
He said a “centre of excellence” could operate on interstate patients free of charge in the public system.
“But, to be called a centre of excellence you need at least three or four neurosurgeons to say that that doctor is doing something different to us and that is not going to happen,” he said.
Dr Teo has threatened to walk away from medicine due to the ongoing controversy around his surgery fees.
Speaking to The Sunday Age, Dr Teo said if the “distractions become too great”, affecting his ability to give his patients what they deserve, he “will call it quits”.
Dr Teo is known for performing surgery on patients other surgeons have deemed inoperable, but since being embroiled in latest spat, Dr Teo has said the medical establishment is “gunning for him”.
Paediatric urologist Professor Paddy Dewan has compared the treatment of Dr Teo to the vilification that surrounded Lindy Chamberlain when her baby Azaria disappeared.
“This is nasty stuff for a person (Dr Teo) to endure,” Dr Dewan said. “Private review is fine, but public vilification of practitioners is killing medicine in Australia.”
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The latest controversy began after Prof Woo tweeted: “Something is seriously wrong if a terminally ill girl with a brain tumour has to raise $ 130,000 to have surgery Dr Charlie Teo has offered to do for $ 60,000-$ 80,000.
“If it was valid surgery, it could/should be performed in the public system under Medicare.”
Prof Woo, who closed down his Twitter account after being slammed for his comments, said he found it “disturbing” how many crowd-funding campaigns mentioned Dr Teo’s name.
But Dr Teo said if a patient was charged $ 120,000, about $ 80,000 went to the private hospital and the rest was divided among not only the surgeon, but also the assistant, anaesthetist, pathologist, radiologist, radiographer. He said he got about $ 8000 for the procedure.
Dr Teo has also highlighted the culture among medical professionals of stopping each other from operating at certain hospitals.
“I hate to say it but I’m guilty of it myself,” he told 6PR.
“I remember when I sat on a credentialing board at one of the hospitals I was at. This guy applied for privileges at this hospital. About three months before he’d written a pretty nasty letter about me, so I didn’t like him. So what do I do?
“With the power that I had, I go ‘no, he can’t have privileges at this hospital’. And, for no other reason than because I didn’t like the guy. He was probably a good surgeon. He’d paid up all his dues. But I didn’t like him so I didn’t give him privileges.”