Immediate action warranted: tribunal

A tribunal has upheld the suspension of a Melbourne health practitioner for posting controversial views on social media

A GP with more than 15 years of practice under his belt has recently appealed a decision by the Medical Board of Australia, made in August last year, to take immediate action to suspend his registration.

In the reasons for its decision, the Board alleged the practitioner had published comments on social media and internet forums that included “denigrating, demeaning and slurring medical practitioners” who provide terminations of pregnancy services; recognise and treat gender dysphoria in a manner that is in accordance with accepted medical practice; and recognise that people who identify as transgender are not suffering from a mental health condition.

The practitioner was also accused of endorsing or calling for violence towards racial and religious groups; endorsing calls for capital punishment for members of the profession who provide terminations of pregnancy services; and expressing or encouraging views regarding LGBQTI persons that have no proper clinical basis and are contrary to accepted medical practice, and/or are “otherwise demeaning”.

The Board identified 30 examples upon which it relied in support of its decision, with extracts of many of the doctor’s social media and Facebook posts spanning approximately a 10-year period submitted to the hearing.

In his appeal before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the doctor conceded he had made the social media posts attributed to him.

However he contended that many of the posts had either been taken out of context of misinterpreted by the Board. He denied, for example, advocating violence.

The practitioner, who was described by the Tribunal as having “clear conservative leanings”, nevertheless conceded that some of his posts have the potential to cause offence.

He submitted that the conduct did not warrant immediate action under the National Law, particularly in the form of suspension, and contended that if action was necessary, a lesser form by way of conditions on his registration not to post to social media would be sufficient.

Evidence from the practitioner was not heard at the appeal, nor was any evidence of how or if his beliefs may have impacted his actual medical practice.

“We accept that there is no direct or concrete evidence that they have,” stated the Tribunal.

“We were not provided with any reports of notifications about [his] clinical care of patients.

“We accept that many of [the practitioner’s] posts could, arguably, be viewed as (acceptable) social commentary/debate. There is no doubt that he sometimes engages in lengthy, articulate and considered discussion,” the Tribunal stated.

However it added: “Other posts … most certainly have the real potential to cause concern/offence to a range of members of the community including (but not limited to) women seeking abortions, other health practitioners and the hospitals/practices in which they work, multiple named races, and members of the LGBTIQ+ communities.”

The Tribunal decided it was in the public interest to take immediate action in order to address the question of public confidence in the provision of services by health professionals.

It said that while arguably some other medical practitioners may silently agree with some or all of the practitioner’s views, those practitioners have not similarly exposed themselves online.

“We ultimately consider that [the doctor’s] conduct compromises the confidence held by the public that they can seek and receive treatment safely not only from him, but potentially from other members of the medical profession,” stated the Tribunal.

“It does not matter that [the practitioner] finds it amusing/rhetorical/entertaining to engage in online antics of this nature. We accept that such banter may be the reality of social media posts. [He] is however a medical practitioner. He is by virtue of his profession required to abide by a Code of Conduct which requires respect and compassion.

“He has obligations to his profession which he must take seriously. He does not simply drop his profession each time he enters the playground of social media engagement.”

The Tribunal upheld the Board’s decision to suspend the practitioner’s registration.

This will remain in place until disciplinary investigations and proceedings are held at a later date to determine conclusively whether or not the doctor’s conduct warrants final disciplinary action.

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