Surgeon’s wife seeks apology

Latika Samalia.
Latika Samalia.
The wife of a Dunedin urologist has written an emotional letter to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman demanding an apology for calling the department "toxic".

Dr Latika Samalia’s letter says her husband sacrificed parts of their family life to run the southern urology service.

Dr Samalia viewed the comment as an insult to her husband, Kampta, who is also known as KP.

Faced with questions about the poor performance of the urology service, including cancer patients waiting too long for surgery, Dr Coleman labelled the department "toxic" and has refused to withdraw the comment.

"I ... would like to let you know what my family has been through while my husband worked constantly for Otago and then Southern DHB for 25 years," says Dr Samalia’s letter, which is copied to media and MPs.

Her husband was the only urologist in Dunedin from 1995 to 2000, and from 2009 to 2014, with occasional assistance from locums. He was on call 24 hours, every day, for 11 years. When the Otago and Southland boards merged seven years ago, the workload became even bigger.

"We as a family sacrificed a lot in this process. He is very devoted to his work.

"Therefore, our two daughters’ school functions, meeting the teacher, prizegiving time, all other family and leisure commitments became second priority since there was no-one else who could take his calls because there was no-one else here."

Her husband convinced two young urologists to join the service in 2014, taking a pay cut so they could be employed, Dr Samalia wrote.

"Patients are waiting to get surgery done not because of personality — as you suggested with your comment that the urology department is toxic.

KP Samalia.
KP Samalia.
"I take this comment personally and would like you as a minister to apologise to the urologists and their families.

"This comment is disgusting and it appears you are ill-informed.

"A number of other department consultants and patients have approached my husband to apologise for your comments," Dr Samalia wrote.

Contacted for comment, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said relationships between senior management and urologists had "long been strained".

"This has culminated in the frustrations that have led to both the urologists and senior management calling for the review," Mr Fleming said in an email.

Senior doctors’ union spokesman Dr John Chambers supported the "powerful" letter. Dr Chambers said he had spoken to a hospital urologist  — not Mr Samalia — who said Dr Coleman had undermined patients’ confidence in them.

"They feel as if the patients don’t believe them any more."

"The urologists are still shocked by what has been said," Dr Chambers said.

Urologist Stephen Mark, chairman of the New Zealand division of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, said the comment was unwise and hurtful.

"There is an understandable anger from both the medical staff who know what KP has done ... and obviously every medical specialist has a degree of sacrifice.

"The degree of sacrifice has been greater than most because of the situation that KP found himself in.

"He has provided a service above and beyond what most people would have expected," Mr Mark said.

Dr Coleman had not named Mr Samalia, but "he will feel much more personally hurt when that comment is made about that service", Mr Mark said.

Dunedin North MP David Clark, who took Dr Coleman to task in Parliament on Tuesday about the comment, said that he had been contacted by senior doctors who expressed frustration at Dr Coleman’s refusal to apologise.

"Dr Samalia is by no means the only voice," Dr Clark said.

National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse, a former chief executive at Dunedin’s Mercy Hospital, expressed support for Mr Samalia when contacted.

"I have known KP for a long time and consider him to be a very good clinician."

Mr Woodhouse made no comment on the "toxic" comment. A spokeswoman for Dr Coleman said he would respond directly to the letter.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

Comments

Powerful, informed by professional experience and personal sacrifice. 'Emotional'?

Dr Coleman is 'emotional', with his reflexive comments on Public Health services.

Shocking! People need to read the supportive comments about KP on the Facebook 'Stop Dunedin Hospital from being downgraded'. Lets hope Coleman does. Voting for Labour will be the quickest way to resolve this.

I hope Dr Coleman has both the sense and graciousness to publicly apologize for his comments.