Doctor under review declined four interview requests
QUEENSLAND Health says Central Queensland urologist Antonio Vega Vega threatened litigation to prevent a review of his patient care amid allegations of botched surgeries.
Barrister Declan Kelly, acting for Queensland Health and the investigators, said Dr Vega Vega had thwarted efforts to allow him procedural fairness, declining four interview requests and avoiding written requests for information.
He told Brisbane Supreme Court there had been a "shift" in correspondence from wanting to provide answers to wanting to prevent the process going forward to completion.
"The focus then is not so much on giving information but 'here are our demands and if they're not met we're going to court to solve this process'," he said.
Mr Kelly said it might have been an approach Dr Vega Vega thought was reasonable in protecting his interests globally but his actions hampered investigators in their efforts to give him procedural fairness in the review.
"They're operating in a dynamic where litigation is being threatened to prevent the review proceeding," he said.
Dr Vega Vega, who has worked as a surgeon at Rockhampton and Gladstone hospitals, hit the headlines last year following allegations he removed the wrong kidney from a patient during a complicated surgical procedure at Rockhampton Hospital.
The Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service stood down Dr Vega Vega and launched an investigation into his care of four patients.
Dr Vega Vega claims those investigations were biased and did not allow natural justice to take its course.
His barrister, Stephen Keim, told the court that clinical reviewers - which he seeks to have declared invalid - had looked at a narrow band of complex surgeries Dr Vega Vega had performed to determine he lacked experience to conduct them.
"I say that is cherry picking," he said.
"The point I want to make is that it's a very selective quotation of the evidence.
"Even if at the end of the day the clinical reviewers wanted to and were correct in saying 'we're not convinced about the experience', they should have referred to a much broader section of the operations that were carried out."
Mr Keim also argued the doctor was not given enough time to respond to the issues and that his client was not given reports in his favour, only given adverse material.
"The applicant should have been given time to find alternative expert witnesses … and to address the adverse conclusions being drawn," he said.
"To be fair to the two reports, they both say lots of witnesses said good things about (Dr Vega Vega).
"The only problem is that it is only ever expressed in those general terms, not in the conclusions that they made."
Mr Kelly argued Dr Vega Vega had made a blanket request for all material from the investigation despite not being entitled to it all.
Justice Ann Lyons questioned how Dr Vega Vega could weigh the allegations against him unless he had all the information before him.
Mr Kelly said doctors felt they were more likely to be frank, forthright and truthful if their submissions were confidential.
"These people work with Dr Vega Vega and they needed to keep going on in a close environment," he said.
Mr Kelly also pointed the court to cases showing there was a strong basis for not providing both the beneficial and detrimental evidence to Dr Vega Vega.
"Dr Vega Vega, at the end of the day, was not entitled to see everything that had been sighted by investigators," he said.
"We suggest the authorities (precedents) are strong for us on that point."
Justice Lyons reserved her decision.
- APN Newsdesk