Top surgeon fights suspension as head of cardiology at Prince of Wales Hospital

Doctor with 23 years of experience in public hospitals says multi-party complaint about his heart procedure is based on flawed data

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 5:50am

A veteran heart surgeon suspended from his duties has broken his silence on the suspension, saying he was unjustly penalised based on misleading data.

Professor Yu Cheuk-man, former head of cardiology at the Prince of Wales Hospital and Chinese University, said he had been "punished" before a complaint about the quality of his surgical work had been investigated. The complaint was made by all other doctors at the hospital who perform similar heart surgery.

He said the hospital chief and the dean of the university's faculty of medicine told him in February about the complaint and asked him to resign.

He has been suspended from performing heart surgery since then.

After Yu appealed to the Hospital Authority in April, two committees were set up by his two employers to investigate criticism of his work made by the doctors, who identified themselves in the complaint.

"The handling of this matter deviated severely from the usual hospital and international practice," Yu said at a press conference yesterday. "Suspension before proper investigation, to my knowledge, has never happened at the Hospital Authority before."

A hospital spokeswoman said earlier that it had been preparing to set up investigating committees in March, and that they were officially set up in April.

Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk said yesterday that the suspension was made based on considerations of patients' safety after receiving the complaint. The investigation is being carried out by local and foreign experts.

The authority said in a statement that serious complications affecting patients could have been avoided, and that the problems could have been the result of the doctor's techniques, teamwork during surgery, and patient risk assessments.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who is helping Yu, argued that patients' rights are being ignored by preventing a top doctor such as Yu from treating patients without a valid reason.

According to Yu, the complaint said his patients had an 8.3 per cent mortality rate within a month of undergoing angioplasty, in which a balloon is used to widen blood vessels in the heart - higher than the average 2.9 per cent mortality rate in British hospitals in 2011.

He said it was misleading because the figure had been based on 133 patients he had operated on in the first half of 2011, looking at their mortality 18 to 24 months after surgery. Some had died of unrelated conditions such as cancer and tuberculosis, he said.

He added that the international standard for calculating post-surgical mortality is 30 days after the procedure.

He said that of more than 600 patients he had operated on from 2010 to 2012, only one had died within 30 days of surgery.

"There was no investigation by any independent panel before that, and I was not allowed to check data and patients' records," he said. "I was not given a chance to explain. It was conviction without due process."