Former University of Newcastle associate professor Richard Reid heading to the Philippines

TWO state health departments are investigating him, a tribunal will hear complaints against him in December and up to eight women are suing him for damages in court, but former University of Newcastle associate professor Richard Reid is going sailing in the Philippines and talking about doing “charitable” medicine there.

Former women patients are outraged, and have slammed the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission for responding to questions about Dr Reid leaving Australia by saying it has “successfully prosecuted” absent doctors in the past.

“If doctors don’t have to stand directly in front of patients at these hearings, they don’t have to acknowledge what they’ve done,” said one former Reid patient who cannot be identified.

“This is what is so wrong with our health system. How can they say ‘successful prosecution’ when the doctor doesn’t even have to be there? It sends a clear message that doctors can do what they want and they’re not accountable, when they should be more accountable because people place so much trust in them.”

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has called on regulators to expedite outstanding matters involving Dr Reid after he told SBS in a December podcast interview that he planned to spend “a lot of time” in the Philippines from early 2017 after retiring, including doing “charitable” medicine and teaching.

He did not mention the outstanding investigations or court cases. Dr Reid did not respond to Newcastle Herald questions about whether he planned to attend the HCCC prosecution before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in December, after an investigation initiated by a complaint from the public in March, 2014. 

This is what is so wrong with our health system. How can they say ‘successful prosecution’ when the doctor doesn’t even have to be there?

Former woman patient of Dr Richard Reid

The NSW Medical Council on Wednesday confirmed it had notified Philippines regulatory authorities about conditions over Dr Reid’s registration restricting him to minor surgical procedures, and outstanding NSW matters, although it is not formally required to do so.

Dr Reid’s history includes leaving America in late 1996 after 19 years as a gynaecologist and obstetrician in the state of Michigan, after at least 13 women launched civil cases against him and the Michigan Board of Medicine investigated allegations of serious injuries to women after surgery by him.

One American woman received a $7.6 million payout after a court was told she could not have sex again after surgery by Dr Reid when she was 23. 

The Michigan Board of Medicine fined him $10,000 in 1998 and suspended him for three months after a hearing of complaints by three women patients, in his absence, found he failed to conform to “minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing practice for the health profession”.

Dr Reid returned to Australia 18 months before the decision but under regulations applicable at the time, was only required to notify Australian authorities of the outstanding American investigation on a form kept for statistical purposes, that did not require his name.

He worked at the public Liverpool and Fairfield hospitals and a Potts Point private hospital from 1998 after returning to Australia. In the December podcast interview he revealed he also spent five days working at a Philippines charity hospital in 1998 showing local doctors “techniques for vaginal surgery” while seeing “an endless number of cases”.

By 2009 Dr Reid had an “extensive complaint history with the NSW Medical Board”, a 2014 NSW tribunal hearing was told after he appealed a suspension.

I like the warm embracing nature of the Philippine culture. I have a Philippine partner. It just works for us.

Dr Richard Reid

In the December interview Dr Reid confirmed his retirement and said “we are considering spending a lot of our time in the Philippines” because the tropics is “where I feel very comfortable at a leisure level”.

“We hope to visit a lot and I would like to do some charity work or some charity teaching if the opportunity arises. I have taught there before and it was such an enjoyable experience,” he said.

“I’d like to contribute in any way that I can. At a general level there are a lot of uninsured people who would probably benefit from any qualified doctor that has got something to give.”

In the “less fortunate segments of society” in the Philippines “there’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

“My areas of expertise have been firmly focused on the skills of doing less invasive surgery, and if I can help to transfer those skills I’d be very glad.”

Dr Reid said his favourite hobby was sailing and the Philippines had “smooth water and good winds encircled by islands”.

“I like the warm embracing nature of the Philippine culture. I have a Philippine partner. It just works for us,” he said.

Mr Shoebridge said patients who took legal action against doctors in court were in a “real David and Goliath” situation against the doctor’s insurance company, and the decision to sue took “extraordinary courage”.

“Patients effectively take on the medical profession. Because of the costs of the litigation these former patients are putting at risk all of their saving and their homes if that litigation fails,” he said.

Doctors not attending tribunal proceedings were disrespectful to both patients and the public, he said.

Asked whether tribunal hearings against absent doctors provided the kind of accountability the public expected of a health regulatory system, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission said “Failure to attend disciplinary proceedings is not a bar to prosecution and there have been many instances where the commission has successfully prosecuted practitioners in absentia”.

It said “every respondent has the right to silence and cannot be compelled to give evidence”.

The HCCC said Dr Reid was legally represented and it was “anticipated that the respondent would give evidence and be cross examined”.

“The fact that the respondent has indicated that he may travel to the Philippines does not prevent him from participating in the preparation of the matter and returning for the hearing.”