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'Get your facts straight.' The debate between two of Australia's most influential doctors.

Amelia ‘Millie’ Lucas is 12, and three years ago, she was diagnosed with an aggressive and malignant brain tumour.

Once given just 12 weeks to live, Millie’s family is crowdfunding to cover the costs of potentially life-saving surgery, administered by world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo.

But another respected Australian doctor, a professor from the University of Sydney, has this week started a debate about the ethics of the scenario.

On Twitter, Dr Henry Woo, who specialises in prostate surgery, wrote, “Something is seriously wrong if a terminally ill girl with a brain tumour has to raise $120K to have surgery.”

“If it was a valid surgery,” Dr Woo continued, “it could/should be performed in the public system under Medicare.”

Dr Woo went on to say that he finds it “really disturbing” that there are currently 113 campaigns on GoFundMe which list Dr Teo as the surgeon.

On Wednesday morning, Dr Teo appeared on the Today show to defend himself against the criticism.

Georgie Gardner began the interview by quoting Dr Woo’s comments, to which Dr Teo responded, “Let’s get our facts straight first.”

“The fact is, although some patients do have to pay over $100,000, that doesn’t all go to the surgeon or even the team.

“It is in a private hospital, which is accounting to their shareholders. They have to make a profit.

Watch: Georgie Gardner speaks to Dr Charlie Teo on Today. Post continues after audio.

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“So, for example, that $120,000 bill that Henry Woo is talking about, $80,000 to the private hospital. $40,000 then gets dispersed among not only the surgeon, the assistant, anaesthetist, pathologist, radiologist, radiographer.

“It is not that great an amount to each individual person, when you get your facts straight…”

Personally, Dr Teo said, he would receive $8000 from such a surgery.

He went on to explain that patients outside NSW can only access his surgery through the private health system, so patients from interstate, or who don’t have private health insurance, have “two options”.

“They come to the private system in NSW and get done privately where they have to pay.

“Or I say to them, ‘Listen, if you can get your neurosurgeon from your state to invite me to your hospital, I will operate free of charge in the public system with benefits not only to you but will benefit hopefully the whole neurosurgical community where they can learn my techniques’. Have I ever been taken up on that offer? Never.

“All they need to do is swallow their ego.”

It’s this ego, he says, that has led to the online criticism from Dr Woo.

“The whole Twitter thing is all about trying to destroy or discredit my reputation,” he said.

“I would say to that person, ‘Listen, there is a lot better things we should be doing as doctors rather than trolling through websites looking for ways to discredit a colleague’.

“Get back to your lab, try and find a cure for prostate cancer. I will try and find a cure for brain cancer, thank you.”

In the wake of the debate, former patients of Dr Teo have publicly defended him.

Brisbane woman Alyson Dunlop, 36, told the ABC she was dismissed by three neurosurgeons before she saw Dr Teo. She had a cyst in the centre of her brain which was causing her pain, as well as depression and anxiety, but was told by specialists that it was too small to be affecting her. Ultimately, she paid $100,000 for the surgery, which she says allowed her to “get my life back”.

“What is the cost of someone’s quality of life, how can you put a figure on that?” she said.

In the case of 12-year-old Millie, her family says the only alternative they’ve been given is to put their daughter in palliative care.

It was only when they sent her scans to Dr Charlie Teo, that they were given hope that surgery may save her.

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