Teo told patient to have operation by Tuesday or be dead by Friday, tribunal hears

Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo told a patient that unless she had surgery on the next Tuesday she would be “f—ing dead by Friday”, her husband has told a disciplinary hearing.

The woman, who died in March 2019, did not wake up after surgery that Teo performed in October 2018.

Her husband, who cannot be identified, was giving evidence on the second day of a Health Care Complaints Commission’s professional standards committee inquiry into two allegations of unsatisfactory conduct by Teo including that he did not sufficiently inform patients about the risks of their surgeries.

Dr Charlie Teo leaving the commission hearing with partner Traci Griffiths. Credit:Peter Rae

The Geelong man said that other doctors had told his wife her tumour was inoperable.

However, his wife had the utmost faith in Teo’s skills. “She actually thought he was God, to be quite honest,” he said.

What convinced her to have the operation was being told by Teo that “Friday was going to be her last day”, her husband recalled.

He denied suggestions put to him by Teo’s barrister Matthew Hutchings that he and his wife fully understood the high risk of Teo’s attempt to resect her tumour.

The man said Teo never mentioned to his wife “that you might not come out of this”.

Instead, the only risks Teo raised were that his wife may be paralysed down one side and that she could suffer some memory loss.

The husband agreed that the neurosurgeon had never promised he would save his wife: “He just said he would buy her time.”

Dr Amit Goyal worked with Charlie Teo.

As his wife lay unresponsive in intensive care after the operation, the man said he listened as Teo spoke to their daughter in Geelong. “Yes, I was negligent I might have taken a bit too much brain out,” he recalls Teo telling his daughter.

In other evidence, the credibility of a witness was challenged after the inquiry heard he provided a fresh statement with “a whole series of new recollections” after consulting the controversial doctor’s lawyers.

Dr Amit Goyal, who was Teo’s surgical fellow for six months from July 2018, gave evidence via video from the United States where he practises.

Kate Richardson SC, acting for HCCC, said Goyal provided a statement to a senior investigator at the commission in February 2020.

The inquiry has heard a Perth woman had a brain tumour that other neurosurgeons had told her was inoperable. The outcome of the October 2018 operation performed by Teo was disastrous and after the surgery, the woman didn’t wake up. She died in April 2019.

Goyal knew there was a complaint about Teo alleging he had not properly explained the risks of surgery to the Perth couple, the inquiry was told.

In his first statement dated February 2020, Goyal wrote: “Charlie didn’t go into a lot of detail with Mr and Mrs [name suppressed]. However, I do specifically remember his emphasising how risky the surgery was and him telling them that the operation could leave [the woman] in a vegetative state.”

He also said in his statement that he was only in the room for two to three minutes.

Richardson challenged Goyal about his second statement in which he identified a “whole plethora of risks” that his mentor raised with the patient, despite not including them in his original statement.

Richardson told the inquiry that Goyal had made a second statement in August last year after consultation with Teo’s lawyers, who have claimed legal professional privilege over their dealings with Goyal.

Goyal said he could not remember who the conference call was with but that it did not include Teo.

He said in evidence that he had not thought to let the HCCC know he had recalled a whole range of new things not mentioned in his original statement.

In his new statement, Goyal had a “whole series of new recollections” including Teo discussing with the Perth couple academic literature, the complexity of the case, and a whole range of potentially poor outcomes, including that the operation was extremely risky and that there was limited case history showing that a resection of this kind of tumour had a good outcome.

The husband, who took notes during Teo’s consultations, has denied these things were discussed.

Goyal admitted in evidence that it was impossible for all of these things to have been discussed in the two to three minutes he was present during Teo’s consultation.

He also agreed he could no longer distinguish between what he heard and what Teo later told him he had said to the couple.

The American neurosurgeon also admitted that in 2021 he had signed an open letter of support for Teo knowing it was going to be published in the media.

The hearing continues.

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