Dr Mark De Wet and his wife Melanie have been told to leave Australia.
Dr Mark De Wet and his wife Melanie have been told to leave Australia. Warren Lynam

Eye surgeon kicked out of country

A SOUTH African doctor who has performed 1870 eye operations on the Sunshine Coast has been given 28 days to leave Australia because “his qualifications are not up to standard”.

Dr Mark de Wet was lured from Johannesburg, where he ran two private clinics, to work at Caloundra Hospital by Queensland Health in 2007.

At the time there was no full-time public ophthalmologist working between Bundaberg and Brisbane.

Waiting lists on the Coast had blown out, with some patients facing six years before surgery.

“Over three years, I performed 1550 cataracts procedures and 320 other eye surgeries,” Dr de Wet told the Daily yesterday.

“I was responsible for the ophthalmitic care of all premature babies in the neonatal ward at Nambour General Hospital.

“I was also effectively on call 66% to 75% of the time for emergency cases.

“I was never once reprimanded over my work.

“Not in my 21 years in the industry have I been either, I have no blemishes.”

On Thursday, May 14, the 50 year-old received a letter from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists after applying for recognition as an overseas trained specialist in ophthalmology.

The letter said the College would “not continue to support registration for Dr de Wet’s Area of Need position”.

“Dr de Wet was originally assessed in November, 2007, and asked to complete the written component of the RANZCO Advanced Clinical Examination (RACE),” it read.

“He was given two opportunities to benchmark appropriately in this examination.

“Having considered the outcomes of both RACE (sat in March, 2009, and March, 2010) in conjunction with the original documentation, the College cannot consider that Dr de Wet is comparable to an Australian trained ophthalmologist.”

Dr de Wet immediately resigned from Caloundra Hospital because he feared he “no longer had insurance” and would be a liability.

Under the conditions of his 457 visa, he must be working full-time to remain in the country.

Dr de Wet, who has been living in Buderim with his wife and two children, now has 28 days to leave the country.

“I am disgusted at the situation,” Dr de Wet said.

“If there was a problem, why wasn’t I told before now?

“Am I to tell all 1870 patients operated on that they were operated on at a standard below that recommended by RANZCO and that it has taken this long to come to that conclusion?

Dr de Wet’s situation is made even more complex by the fact he says he had no supervision during these 1870 procedures.

Overseas trained surgeons must clock up a set amount of supervised hours.

Fellow surgeons, locals and patients are outraged at the treatment of the ophthalmologist.

“When I left nurses were crying,” he said.

“The superintendent told me I was their biggest asset.”

Waiting lists are expected to blow out with Dr de Wet’s departure.

The current waiting list for the Coast is understood to be 1500 patients and about six months.

Sunshine Coast Health District CEO Kevin Hegarty said addressing the issue was a matter of urgency.

“The Sunshine Coast Health Service District is seeking visiting medical officers or consultants from locum agencies to ensure ophthalmology services are maintained,” he said.

“The district is also investigating options through Surgery Connect and outsourcing public patients to private hospital services.

“A recruitment campaign, seeking appropriately qualified and experienced ophthalmologists to work in a permanent full or part-time capacity is also under way, as a matter of priority.

Mr Hegarty said given there was a world-wide shortage of medical specialists, recruiting a permanent ophthalmologist was considered a long-term strategy.

A spokesman for RANZCO said in all of its activities, the College’s decisions were underpinned by its primary concern for the interests of all patients.

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