‘Get your facts straight’: Surgeon hits out
ONE of Australia's best-known medics, brain surgeon Charlie Teo, took a swipe at Georgie Gardner in an tense interview on the Today show this morning.
His appearance comes off the back of a Twitter storm, in which other senior medical figures have criticised Dr Teo for accepting six-figure sums raised for cancer patients through crowd-funding to pay for his services.
After an awkward silence as the pair said "good morning" to one another, Gardner began the interview by quoting Henry Woo, a professor at the University of Sydney, who had criticised her guest on social media.
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 $60-80,000."
Dr Charlie Teo defends the high cost of his procedures, instead putting the onus on other neurosurgeons who won't swallow their egos and says "I would do it free of charge" if Australia's healthcare system covered the costs. #9Today pic.twitter.com/mwjmuMU8Se— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) May 28, 2019
Gardner then pressed Dr Teo, asking him to explain why, if he's offering a valid procedure, the surgery is not covered by Medicare and the public hospital system.
However, Dr Teo clearly wasn't happy with the line of questioning and went through where some of money goes, telling Ms Gardner to get her "facts straight".
"Let's get our facts straight first," he said. "The fact is, although some patients do have to pay over $100,000, that doesn't all go to the surgeon or even the team.
"It is in a private hospital, which is accounting to their shareholders. They have to make a profit.
"So, for example, that $120,000 bill that Henry Woo is talking about, $80,000 to the private hospital. $40,000 then gets dispersed among not only the surgeon, the assistant, anaesthetist, pathologist, radiologist, radiographer.
"It is not that great an amount to each individual person, when you get your facts straight …"
Unflustered, Gardner, then asked how much Dr Teo would receive personally in that circumstance.
"I got $8000," he said. "But it is really not the total amount that each person gets. It is really the fact that people do have to pay for their private healthcare.
"It is a little bit unfair. If I was a child with cancer and in a foreign state who wants the very best care, I think you should be able to be done in the public system.
"But unfortunately if you are done in the public system a few people have swallowed their egos."
He said that a "centre of excellence" can 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.
He went on to say that he offers surgery free of charge for interstate patients who are poor or don't have private health insurance
"They have two options," he said. "They come to the private system in NSW and get done privately where they have to pay.
"Or I say to them, 'Listen, if you can get your neurosurgeon from your state to invite me to your hospital, I will operate free of charge in the public system with benefits not only to you but will benefit hopefully the whole neurosurgical community where they can learn my techniques'. Have I ever been taken off on that offer? Never.
"All they need to do is swallow their ego."
He said the whole Twitter storm over fundraising for his surgery is driven by the same egotism among surgeons.
"The whole Twitter thing is all about trying to destroy or discredit my reputation," he said. "I would say to that person, 'Listen, there is a lot better things to do we should be doing as doctors rather than trolling through websites looking for ways to discredit a colleague'.
"Get back to your lab, try and find a cure for prostate cancer. I will try and find a cure for brain cancer, thank you."
Yesterday, the controversy over Dr Teo's practices prompted the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) to remind surgeons of their responsibility to avoid excessive fees and to make sure patients could provide informed financial consent.
RACS executive director of surgical affairs John Quinn told ABC that the procedures offered by Dr Teo were already available in the public system - adding that cancer patients should not have to fundraise, mortgage their houses or access their superannuation to pay for them elsewhere.
"Those who think if they pay a greater fee that they will get a better service are misguided and misled,'' he said.