Surgeon Chris Phoon urged to release report; ‘He owes it to the public’

Orthopaedic surgeon Chris Phoon
Orthopaedic surgeon Chris Phoon

A member of the  Southern NSW Local Health District board is calling on orthopaedic surgeon Dr Chris Phoon to release the independent review into his professional services which was carried out at the end of May.

Board member Russell Fitzpatrick said given the public outcry over the non-renewal of Dr Phoon’s contract at SERH the report should be made public.

Dr Phoon rose to prominence in February when his contract as a visiting medical officer (VMO) at the hospital was not renewed. The ensuing debate between the surgeon, the community and the Local Health District became a focal point and the firestorm drew in politicians from all sides.

“He owes it to the public especially after the public meeting with 400 people – and it’s great that the public are so passionate about the hospital and the services there – but the only way that anything can be resolved further with Dr Phoon is to release the report and have it dealt with in the appropriate manner,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

Dr Phoon has had the report since June 17 and the public is entitled to know if there are any issues.

SNSWLHD board member Russell Fitzpatrick

Fairfax Media understands that the independent review panel included four members of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

“Dr Phoon has had the report since June 17 and the public is entitled to know if there are any issues surrounding Dr Phoon and the medical council and the executive at the Local Health District,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The independent peer review was carried out at the same time as the SERH review.

The issues at SERH have been the cause of considerable fallout, with orthopaedic surgeons declaring their support for Dr Phoon but later returning to work.

Last week both the board chairwoman Jenny Symons and SNSWLHD chief executive Janet Compton resigned their positions.

And while the public has largely been on the side of Dr Phoon, there have been non-management insiders who have privately voiced support for the board’s position.

Fairfax Media also understands that there have been differences of opinion between Dr Phoon and other senior clinicians in theatre.

Much of the recent angst between surgeons and management was triggered over the 30 per cent pay reduction for orthopaedic surgeons as their contracts came up for renewal. 

SERH does not qualify as a rural hospital and so the 30 per cent increase which is given to those doctors working in rural hospitals was no longer available.

In order to get around the system some doctors tried to get patients to have surgery at Cooma Hospital, which is classed as a rural hospital, instead of at SERH.

The extra 30 per cent payment is in lieu of additional work/patients that would be seen in a larger hospital.

Mr Fitzpatrick explained that Bega District Hospital had two operating theatres, but SERH now has four (although one is yet to be fully up and running).

In the meantime contracts for other surgeons are due for renewal at the lower rate and there is concern that the last thing SERH needs is more angst.