Dr Francis Chu - Unsatisfactory professional conduct - Reprimand and conditions

18 June 2020

The Health Care Complaints Commission prosecuted a complaint before a Medical Professional Standards Committee against Dr Francis Chu, a surgeon working at two nearby hospitals, St George Public Hospital and St George Private Hospital.  The complaint alleged that Dr Chu told a 72 year old retired man that he needed surgery for his liver cancer and that he could not get him into the public hospital in time. The patient was in receipt of a pension and had no private health insurance. Dr Chu performed the liver resection surgery at the private hospital, which the patient and his family members paid a significant amount for private hospital care, partly obtained from the patient’s daughter’s superannuation. The Commission alleged that the same surgery could have been performed at the public hospital for no cost in an appropriate time frame. The Commission alleged that Dr Chu failed to provide adequate information to the patient before the surgery about the possibility of the surgery being performed at the public hospital and failed to obtain informed financial consent prior to performing the surgery at the private hospital.  There was no complaint about Dr Chu’s surgical skills.

Dr Chu admitted failing to record sufficient information in his consultation notes but did not admit some other aspects of the complaint.

On 14 May 2020, the Professional Standards Committee published its decision, finding Dr Chu guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The Committee found that:

  • the patient was classified as the highest priority so the relevant public hospital policy required his surgery to take place within 30 days;
  • it was likely that the patient could have had his surgery at the public hospital in an appropriate time frame; 
  • even if there were delays in the public hospital, Dr Chu had the capacity to manage his lists and advocate for his patient, either by seeking an additional surgical list or potentially transferring care to another surgeon, but he did neither; 
  • Dr Chu did not discuss the alternative of the public system in adequate detail and instead offered the private hospital as the only way the patient could have his surgery in an acceptable timeframe;
  • Dr Chu’s failure to provide adequate information about the possibility of the surgery being performed at the public hospital and his failure to obtain informed financial consent prior to performing the surgery at the private hospital amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct;  
  • Dr Chu’s failure to pay sufficient attention to the patient’s daughter’s superannuation form before he signed it was careless and inappropriate, but does not amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct; and
  • Dr Chu’s admitted failure to record sufficient information in his consultation notes is unsatisfactory professional conduct.

Given that Dr Chu allowed and facilitated an elderly uninsured pensioner to have expensive private treatment when similar clinical care was available to him at no cost in the public hospital, the Committee decided to impose a formal reprimand to alert other members of the profession that such conduct is not acceptable. The Committee also imposed a condition on Dr Chu’s registration requiring him to submit a regular log to encourage him to reflect more carefully on the appropriateness of treating uninsured patients in the private system. Dr Chu is also required to submit to a records audit to assess his compliance with his professional obligations in relation to his clinical records.

A copy of the full decision is available here.

Further Information

For further information, contact the Executive Officer of the Health Care Complaints Commission, on 9219 7444 or send an email to media@hccc.nsw.gov.au.

The information in this media release is correct at the time of publication. Orders may change; for example, conditions may no longer apply. For current information regarding the status of a registered health practitioner, including any conditions that currently apply, please check the National Register at www.ahpra.gov.au.

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