Queensland bariatric surgeon William Braun faces accusations of medical negligence and misconduct dating back more than a decade and more recent allegations regarding sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation recorded across three states and territories.
A Queensland surgeon — suspended after Parliament heard allegations of medical negligence, sexual misconduct and harassment — had a lengthy series of accusations levelled against him that spanned a decade, the ABC can reveal.
As far back as 2006, a number of senior surgeons expressed concerns to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) about allowing Russian expatriate William Braun to practise as a surgeon.
Warning: This story contains graphic images.
In a letter to RACS the surgeons stated; “we do consider William to be a significant threat to the community”.
Despite those concerns Dr Braun became a recognised surgeon with RACS.
Allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and claims of medical negligence span three states and territories.
Last month the surgeon was suspended by Queensland Health pending an investigation after the case was raised in parliament by Queensland’s Opposition.
A number of senior doctors across the country have told the ABC about their concerns as well as former patients who made allegations of misconduct against Dr Braun.
Dr Braun said the allegations are unsubstantiated.
‘It got out of control’
Sally Woods ended up in a coma after life-threatening complications following gastric sleeve surgery conducted by Dr Braun in 2016.
Ms Woods had the operation in Brisbane and was sent home to North Queensland where she soon became unwell.
“It was like she wanted to vomit all the time, complained of constant pain. It was concerning at the time but we were unsure, we were relying on the clinic to provide us the appropriate information,” husband Nathan Woods said.
Mr Woods said his wife presented to Mackay Hospital for treatment, but could not eat for 10 days and became malnourished.
He said her condition continued to deteriorate over the next month and she returned to Brisbane for a number of revisional surgeries with Dr Braun as a result of complications.
Mr Woods said his wife had a succession of new operations at which point his family began to lose confidence in Dr Braun.
“It got out of control,” he said.
“Sally was on a trolley to and from surgery more times that you can poke a stick at. It felt like every second day.
“And then she went in and out of intensive care a number of times. She’d come back to the ward, deteriorate, then go back in intensive care.”
By the time Dr Braun conducted his final surgery Ms Woods had sepsis, a torn bowel, and her spleen had been removed.
She was transferred to another surgeon and put into an induced coma when Dr Braun travelled overseas. Her husband was told to prepare for the worst.
“I was told she’d have a 50 per cent chance of surviving,” Mr Woods said.
“I thought she was a goner.”
Ms Woods did survive the surgeries but she spent more than six months in hospital recovering.
Ms Woods appealed to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for an investigation into the surgical process and Dr Braun’s management of her complications.
An independent assessor found several “concerns … with regards to judgement and exercise of care at various stages in the management of Ms Woods” and was critical of the “largely inadequate” post-operative care by Dr Braun.
The assessor found some of the immediate post-operative care “was not done. If it were done Dr Braun may have detected early signs of what was to come and may have been able to better manage subsequent complications”.
The assessor also found leaving Ms Woods in the care of Mackay Hospital when complications first arose was inappropriate.
The assessor told the AHPRA board there was an “inappropriate delay in involving colleagues in the ongoing management once problems occurred … there appears to have been a breakdown in communication and trust between the patient and Dr Braun and this led to errors in judgement and in decision making”.
Although it acknowledged a number of “catastrophic” complications, AHPRA eventually determined Dr Braun’s performance with Ms Woods was adequate — a finding the Woods family weren’t satisfied with.
“I wouldn’t recommend him off our experience,” Mr Woods said.
AHPRA would not confirm if any other of Dr Braun’s cases had been referred for investigation.
‘I feel like I have been chopped up’
However, the ABC can reveal Dr Braun had a complaint made against him when he was a trainee at the Royal Darwin Hospital in 2005.
Warning: Graphic images below
A patient at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, said she complained to the hospital about Dr Braun after he removed a vein from her leg that resulted in 65 staples, three lots of stitches, 24 incisions and sensory nerve loss.
The patient complained to the Royal Darwin Hospital alleging, “I feel like I have been chopped up, operated on without due care and totally disrespected as his patient while under anaesthesia”.
The woman’s lawyers settled with the hospital for an undisclosed amount. The hospital would not comment on the case.
Dr Braun left the Northern Territory after working there for about six months.
However, a representative from the hospital wrote to RACS stating Dr Braun “would not be re-employed at the Royal Darwin Hospital”.
Their letter also listed other concerns about Dr Braun including:
- An “inability to show any insight into his own behaviour which makes him a potentially dangerous medical practitioner”
- A formal complaint had been made by a fellow staff member against Dr Braun about an invasion of privacy
- Concerns about a possible false statement regarding Dr Braun’s CV and training experience
The letter also lists 11 cases Dr Braun had been involved in that were reported to RACS as a “sentinel case” — that is, a case which involved serious injury or psychological risk that could have been prevented.
The representative concluded that Dr Braun “should not proceed to advanced surgical training”.
In another letter sent in 2006, senior surgeons also wrote to RACS stating they considered “William to be a significant safety threat to the community”.
RACS has not responded to the ABC about the letters.
As Dr Braun attempted to move through the surgical ranks, more of his colleagues formally documented their concerns.
In 2009 in a different state, another senior surgeon wrote to RACS, expressing concern about Dr Braun’s behaviour over a period of several years, and his eligibility for a fellowship with the College.
RACS hasn’t responded to questions about that letter.
‘Negligent surgical management’
By 2011 Dr Braun had started his private practise in Queensland and operated on a woman for a hernia repair at a south-east Queensland hospital.
The woman later launched legal action against Dr Braun, alleging “negligent surgical and post surgical management”.
Court documents obtained by the ABC, reveal the patient’s bladder was torn during the operation and she then suffered a number of complications that lead to her condition deteriorating to the point where she was sent to intensive care.
The woman claimed, as a result of Dr Braun’s actions, she developed an irregular heartbeat and sepsis and needed major surgery to address the complications.
The woman spent nearly a year in hospital and her case was sent to mediation in 2015. The outcome was not recorded in court documents.
However, the ABC can reveal four months after the surgery, AHPRA imposed a number of restrictions on Dr Braun’s capacity to operate, including;
- He was only able to operate under supervision
- He had three monthly reports on his competency in surgery in post-operative care
- He had to provide the AHPRA board with full access to his patient and clinical records and diaries to check for compliance
- He had to notify hospitals of his restrictions
The restrictions were lifted in mid-2012. AHPRA would not confirm if the conditions were a result of the hernia surgery.
Concerns about Dr Braun’s past have been raised by Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates under parliamentary privilege.
“We understand that two of the senior doctors who were on the review of the Dr [Jayant] Patel saga are of the opinion that Braun is potentially worse than Patel,” she told Parliament.
Female trainees removed
A senior Queensland surgeon, responsible for the training of junior surgeons, wrote to RACS in 2017 warning of concerns about Dr Braun’s alleged treatment of staff.
The surgeon, who did not wish to be named, told RACS that female trainees would no longer be sent to learn from, or work with, Dr Braun at the state-operated Redcliffe Hospital.
“We requested that Dr Braun be reported to AHPRA under mandatory reporting requirements. We are waiting to hear the outcome of this complaint,” the surgeon told the ABC.
“In the interim, while awaiting the outcome of investigations, the Board [in General Surgery] supported the hospital supervisor in, where possible, not sending female trainees to the hospital where Dr Braun worked.”
The ABC can reveal RACS sent lawyers to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in 2018 to interview and question staff over the allegations.
AHPRA and RACS did not respond to questions about its investigation into these claims or the outcome.
One woman documented her alleged experience in a letter tabled to Queensland Parliament where she claimed Dr Braun “would repeatedly take the scope off me while rubbing up against me from behind. I was embarrassed by this and felt violated”.
The woman claimed Dr Braun, “told me he thought I would never make a successful, independently practising surgeon as I was female and he didn’t know of any such females that were successful. I felt traumatised after this”.
In a separate incident at North West Private Hospital in 2017 Dr Braun was reprimanded after a medical supplies representative alleged he made lewd comments.
The woman said she apologised after arriving late to Dr Braun’s operating list and Dr Braun allegedly told her she could “repay the concern with sexual favours”.
North West Private Hospital, which is owned by Ramsay Health Care, confirmed Dr Braun was “reprimanded by hospital management” over this incident and was required to attend an education program and professional accountability.
RACS would not confirm how many complaints it had received about Dr Braun’s behaviour, or if it passed on any concerns to federal investigative authorities.
Dr Braun has been suspended from working at Queensland Health and voluntarily stood down from North West Private Hospital, pending investigations.
The Queensland Health Ombudsman is also investigating.
The Ramsay Health Centre has sent a representative to Queensland to talk with staff about their interactions with Dr Braun.
RACS also held an emergency meeting about the issues raised, and has suspended Dr Braun from all RACS-related activities, pending further investigation.
Dr Braun has not responded to questions about specific allegations made against him but released a statement.
“I am deeply concerned that anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations against me have been tabled under parliamentary privilege,” he said in the statement.
“I have been denied a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to these allegations under the established and proper mechanisms for pursuing complaints.
‘I have also been denied the opportunity to provide wider context around what I believe to be a related issue, which is a coordinated campaign of harassment against me which has been ongoing for several years.
“I have formally requested support from hospital administrators and other professional bodies in relation to this harassment on numerous occasions from 2016 — 2019.
“I respect and understand the need for parliamentary privilege. However, it is a powerful weapon and when misused, particularly against individuals, it can have devastating consequences.
‘For me, the tabling of this anonymous information has caused irreparable damage to my professional and personal reputation and caused significant concern to myself and my family.”