Fact: Dr Kok, a competent GP of 15 years, well-respected by his patients, posted comments on social media and at least one article in a Christian newspaper regarding ethical matters he felt strongly about.
Fact: in August 2019, as a result of a complaint, Dr Kok was suspended from practice under “emergency powers”[i] by the MBA because of these “damaging” statements that might cause patients to lose confidence in the medical profession.
Fact: Dr Kok offered to remove the posts in question but this offer was ignored. It is on record that the current chair of MBA has said that intervention “would require somebody to be unresponsive to requests to take things down”. This did not happen despite Dr Kok’s offer.
Fact: Dr Kok’s explanation of his posts was not listened to and an appeal went through to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) which stated that the MBA had acted within the rules.
How should this have been handled? Firstly by “the old boys’ network”[ii]. A “talking to”, a metaphorical “rap over the knuckles”, to not post comments that might be regarded by some as “damaging to the profession”.
The MBA’s problem with Dr Kok is that his public stand — as limited as it was — could cause patients to lose confidence in the medical profession.
Dr Kok is still under suspension.
Medical Board of Australia
Fact: in October 2018 the MBA released a draft Code of Conduct (COC) for medical doctors for comment.
Fact: this draft COC contained various aspects of medical practice that were considered to be a negative interference with the practice of good medicine. In short, it was considered by doctors of good standing to be dishonouring to the practice of medicine, even “Orwellian”.
Fact: the draft COC attracted a lot of negative submissions from well-respected doctors across Australia.
Fact: The MBA released a new COC effective from 1 October 2020 having listened to the feedback and removed most of the dishonourable material. [iii]
A good result, but concerns remain — including how the draft code could have been so bad and by what influences.
The MBA has made itself irrelevant in any sense of having an ethical code of conduct.
If such was known more widely, it could also have caused loss of confidence in the medical profession, as well as the medical profession having lost confidence in the MBA.
In contrast to Dr Kok, the MBA has suffered no penalty and was able to remove the offending material. But for many doctors, it will be a long time before confidence in the MBA is restored.
[i] Section 156(1)e of the National Law when the example given relates to a serious criminal offence
(e) the National Board reasonably believes the action is otherwise in the public interest.
Example of when action may be taken in the public interest—
A registered health practitioner is charged with a serious criminal offence, unrelated to the practitioner’s practice, for which immediate action is required to be taken to maintain public confidence in the provision of services by health practitioners.
[ii] My experience in complaint resolution is extensive, including 15 yrs of AMA(WA) Colleague of First Contact (now DHAS).
[iii] dishonourable material
“Medically irrelevant grounds including… gender identity, sexual orientation”
“culturally safe and respectful practice” (not necessarily equating to medically safe)
“only the patient and/or their family can determine whether or not care is culturally safe and respectful”