February 26, 2024

Leading Australian brain surgeon sanctioned for ‘cowboy’ behaviour

Charlie Teo is a lightning rod for controversy

from Charlie Teo Foundation website

Charlie Teo is probably the best-known doctor in Australia – and certainly the best-known brain surgeon. He is renowned for saying that there’s no such thing as false hope – he dares to do operations which colleagues are reluctant to do. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and countless profiles of him have appeared in the media.

But the daring pioneer has just had his wings clipped. Medical authorities in New South Wales have restricted his ability to practice. He is forbidden to perform certain kinds of surgery without written approval from a colleague. The supervising surgeon must also verify whether Dr Teo has explained to the patient “all material risks” and has obtained “informed financial consent”.

Money is a major issue. Some of his colleagues have complained that he charged exorbitant fees for operating on patients in the private system and then left them stranded in the public system when their money ran out.

The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that desperate patients without health insurance were crowdfunding, mortgaging their houses or borrowing money to meet the A$100,000+ fee for a brain tumour operation.

Although Dr Teo claimed to work “miracles”, he also made mistakes. The SMH reported that he operated on the wrong side of a woman’s brain in 2003, a mistake that was only discovered years later. She has settled out of court.

He is a polarising figure. Thousands of people have signed a petition of support. One woman wrote: “I am sick of so-called specialists fobbing patients off because they have reached their capacity instead of referring on to someone more capable. Personally know a few people who have been to CT and had great success. It really is a conspiracy against the most talented…..those who outshine ! Jealousy and ego run amok!”

Dr Teo is now considering walking away from neurosurgery after the imposition of the humiliating conditions on his practice.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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