Complaints about the Medical Board muzzling doctors’ freedom of speech continue, with a Sydney doctor describing the board’s new draft code of conduct as a step backwards for doctors’ rights.
Dr Maxine Szramka, a consultant rheumatologist, last week shared an open letter saying the vagueness of conduct rules on which doctors could be prosecuted contributed to “ill health and misery” in the medical profession.
“I have particular concerns regarding the new section of ‘professionalism’ particularly where it impacts upon the right that doctors have as people to their freedom of speech, “ she wrote in the letter to the board.
Dr Szramka rejects the argument that doctors should censor what they say because they have influence over the rest of society.
“Such notions are mistaken and misplaced and belong to a system of patriarchal medicine, a system that supposedly we are moving away from, and correctly so,” Dr Szramka said.
“If doctors were so influential with their words, all our patients would give up alcohol and smoking straight away, stop eating junk food and exercise regularly.
“If doctors were so influential people would be queuing up to follow us on social media, hanging off our every word. However, as an expert rheumatologist, I have under 1000 Twitter followers whereas Kim Kardashian has 56.8 million.”
Speaking to The Medical Republic, Dr Szramka criticised the board’s failure to contact doctors directly about the consultation on the proposed update of Good Medical Practice.
“It should have gone out to every doctor,” she said.
She learned of the update only when it was publicised by journalist Miranda Devine in a report on AHPRA’s investigation of Queensland GP Dr David van Gend for allegedly providing information that was “clearly not medically, psychologically or scientifically based”.
Dr van Gend has been accused by a member the public of discriminatory conduct for sharing two tweets critical of “gender fluidity” being taught in schools.
Subsequently, the board’s angle on free speech became the target of a Senate motion by Conservative Party MP Cory Bernardi and the subject of complaints by members to the AMA.
Dr Szramka’s letter also takes aim at the suggestion that doctors should only express opinions on healthcare and medicine that are “the generally held views” of the profession.“Such measures … do nothing to affirm the human rights of all doctors, treat them as less than other members of the public because ‘they are in a position of privilege’, and puts them and the future of health care at risk,” she said.
Curbs on free speech could have denied many developments in medicine – such as the diagnosis of coeliac disease and the discovery of H. pylori as a cause of stomach ulcers, which went against generally held views.
Doctors were not there to repeat the mantras of the day. They were trained to be intelligent, to interpret, to observe and continuously learn, Dr Szramka said.
“Doctors learn much in their clinical practices in addition to the scientific literature and need to be free to express their experiences and learnings without fear of having their medical licence removed.”