The Tweed Hospital, Tweed Heads. Photo: John Gass / Daily News
The Tweed Hospital, Tweed Heads. Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass /TWE221211hosp

Doctor accuses Health District of Medicare 'double dipping'

A FORMER Tweed Hospital doctor has accused the Northern New South Wales Local Health District of attempted fraud, Medicare double dipping, bullying and unfair dismissal in a matter before the Fair Work Commission.

Dr Leong-Fook Ng worked for the hospital as a specialist oncologist between May and November 2006, having arrived from South Australia on a NSW Health-sponsored 457 Visa.

The Cambridge University-trained doctor was stood down over "communication skills" that same year - allegations that were later quashed on appeal.

He alleges the claims were a reaction to him raising a matter about the hospital using his Medicare number to double-dip - a practice in which services already funded through the Federal Government are claimed a second time through Medicare.

The NSW Industrial Commission in 2007 found Dr Ng had not been formally dismissed from his position because he had withdrawn his NSW medical registration voluntarily as he had no right of work at that time.

From overseas, he did, however, regain general and specialist registrations in Western Australia (where he had practised as a GP in 1981) in 2009 - a move he attributes to his ability to still hold down a job as a travelling GP around the country, albeit for much less pay and involving under-use of his high level of training, away from his wife and young daughter.

Dr Ng maintained in his Fair Work application that he was essentially "constructively" dismissed.

His statement says: "In early June 2006, Medicare rang me and asserted that I was defrauding the Commonwealth with my (Medicare) provider number," his application states.

"On July 19, 2006, during a conference with hospital manager Ms Trish Hogan, in good faith, I brought up the issue of Medicare having persistently contacted me about cost shifting and double dipping with my original non-claims provider number.

"The purpose of the meeting was to try to resolve the issue of Medicare's allegations, which were extremely serious in nature.

"No discussion on this took place.

"Ms Hogan immediately lost her temper and ordered the other physical attendee, Dr Winton Barnes, to take 'disciplinary action' against me."

Dr Ng said he was stood down within a month, after a nurse unit manager lodged 30 complaints against him.

An investigation ensued, during which Dr Ng says a patient was invited to complain against him, "presumably also coached, as was a general practitioner's complaint".

The claims of unprofessional behaviour and communication issues were withdrawn in April, 2009, "after 27 months of sustained damage" to his reputation, Dr Ng said.

He said the health service was never prosecuted over the alleged double dipping and said there were more cases of fraud within the system - including a nurse unit manager's alleged "altering of a chemotherapy dose which has a potential to harm or kill a patient in the (health service's) electronic clinical notes at the Tweed Hospital".

The NNSW Local Health District has denied all of Dr Ng's claims and applied for the matter to be dismissed by the Fair Work Commission.

In its submission, the health district said Dr Ng's concerns were "without substance in every instance".

It pointed to Dr Ng's referral of reports of alleged fraudulent and unsafe practices to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, NSW Ombudsman and Health Care Complaints Commission as evidence his claims were unsubstantiated.

"None of these proceeded with further action, after examining the material provided to them by Dr Ng," the submission states.

Dr Ng's submission stated other former northern NSW doctors had come to the fore and may join him in a class action lawsuit, including former Lismore Hospital obstetrician Dr Glenn Taylor.

Dr Taylor was stood down in 2013 while complaints against him were investigated.

The complaints were proven false, but the decision to suspend Dr Taylor before they were substantiated sparked a major outcry from local health workers, more than 80 of whom signed a petition calling for health district CEO Chris Crawford to be sacked.

The submission stated resigned Lismore Hospital drug and alcohol specialist Dr Paul McGeown was considering joining the class action.

Dr McGeown told APN in November he had quit the profession after workplace bullying complaints he made were swept under the carpet by health district CEO Chris Crawford.

Dr Ng hopes for a hearing next month (FEBRUARY) before the Fair Work Commission but it remains to be seen whether the matter will be allowed to go ahead and be remitted to the Federal Court.

-APN NEWSDESK



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