The health chief has waded into the controversy over the Medical Council's decision to clear a surgeon who used a mobile phone during an operation, saying he does not condone the doctor's actions. Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong was speaking for the first time on the issue that has engulfed the Medical Council since it cleared a Queen Mary Hospital surgeon of professional misconduct last week. 'On the use of mobile phones, I just want to state very clearly that we do not think mobile phones should be used in operating theatres or anywhere near any medical equipment,' the Secretary for Health and Welfare said. He said the use of mobile phones inside operating theatres has been banned in public hospitals because of safety concerns over interference with life-saving equipment and so doctors were not distracted when treating their patients. He also urged the council to find ways to build up public confidence in the system. 'The starting point will be a better explanation of the reasons for its decision. Maybe that's the area where it needs to do more work,' said Dr Yeoh. In the long term, a major review of the Medical Council would be conducted to see how the redress system can be improved to regain lost public confidence, he said. On Wednesday, the council said after an emergency meeting that it 'does not accept the use of mobile telephones during any operation or procedure without due justification'. Critics accused it of giving too much leeway to doctors to use mobiles while operating. Democratic Party legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said council chairman Dr Lee Kin-hung should resign as his handling of the issue had been 'out of date'. 'Today, we are asking for transparency, for patients' rights . . . I give him a fail mark,' he said. Non-affiliated legislator Michael Mak Kwok-fung, who represents the health sector, said as chairman of the council Dr Lee should be held accountable for the panel's actions. Dr Lee refused to comment yesterday but confirmed through an assistant that Dr Yeoh had talked to him. Council members yesterday explained their decision. Professor Sydney Chung Sheung-chee, dean of the faculty of medicine at Chinese University, said: 'It is very clear there is a consensus within the profession and the council that it is inappropriate to chat on the mobile phone while performing an operation. But there are always exceptions.' Professor Leung Ping-chung, chairman of the council's ethics committee and also of Chinese University, said: 'It is already written down [in the doctor's code of practice] that the best and full attention should be given to any patient. That includes not using mobiles in the theatre.' But Dr Henry Yeung Chiu-fat, president of the Hong Kong Doctors' Union, said he had argued strongly at the meeting that the use of mobile phones must be banned during operations.