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Suspended surgeon ‘denied natural justice’ by Queensland Health

A judge has lifted the suspension of a Brisbane surgeon under investigation for sexual misconduct and medical negligence on the basis that Queensland Health failed to provide him natural justice and procedural fairness.

Doctor William Braun was stood down by Queensland Health and Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS) in February last year after a series of accusations were levelled at him under parliamentary privilege by a Queensland LNP MP.

MNHHS executive Dr Elizabeth Rushbrook, named as the first respondent in Supreme Court action taken by Dr Braun, referred the allegations to Queensland’s Office of the Health Ombudsman – which continues to conduct investigations into allegations of negligence and misconduct made against Dr Braun.

Dr Braun, who was suspended on full-pay, responded by taking legal action against both Dr Rushbrook and MNHHS on the grounds the suspension had impacted significantly on his reputation and that he had suffered financial loss during the 12 month since his suspension.

Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Frances Williams, in a recently published decision, agreed with Dr Braun’s application and last Friday declared orders made by Dr Rushbrook and MNHHS “to be of no force or effect”.

Justice Williams, in a written decision, said: “Each of the decision made by (Dr Rushbrook) on 27 February 2019 to suspend (Dr Braun) from duty in his employment, the subsequent decisions affirming the first decision after review thereof on 26 March 2019, 31 May 2019 and 27 August 2019 and the purported decision to suspend (Dr Braun) from duty to his employment of 12 August 2020 are declared to be of no force or effect.

“The respondents (Dr Rushbrook and MNHHS) are to pay (Dr Braun’s) costs of and incidental to the proceeding.”

Lawyers for Dr Braun had argued, during a two-day hearing on 28 August and 1 September, the surgeon had been denied natural justice and denied an opportunity to put forward his reasons or case against his suspension.

They also submitted that all decisions surrounding Dr Braun’s suspension were an improper exercise of power.

Justice Williams agreed with submissions advanced in support of Dr Braun’s application, saying: “I have found a failure to afford procedural fairness in respect of decisions (against Dr Braun and) declaratory relief would be appropriate.

“On the basis that (Dr Braun) has established a breach of the rules of natural justice in relation to the decisions (to suspend him), it is appropriate to grant the relief sought.”

During the hearing the court was told Dr Braun continued to receive his annual Queensland Health salary of $113,000 while suspended, but claimed to have lost up to $2.3 million in other surgical-related earnings during the same period.

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