GP deregistered for falsifying vaccine exemptions
Monday, 14 March 2022
During COVID-19 some doctors may feel pressured by patients to provide vaccine exemptions, but it’s important to stick to the guidelines and uphold your professional obligations.
In this case which pre-dates the pandemic, a GP dishonestly provided over 100 immunisation exemptions for unvaccinated children in order to meet the ‘No Jab, No Play’ policy.
The Medical Board of Australia received six notifications about the doctor’s provision of immunisation exemptions. This included a letter from the state’s Chief Health Officer warning him about issuing immunisation exemptions for children where there was no proper basis.
The Medical Board commenced an investigation after the doctor continued to provide false immunisation exemptions and encouraged others, including doctors, to participate in similar conduct. The Medical Board obtained search warrants to seize documents including patient records, from two practices.
The Medical Board suspended the doctor’s registration and commenced disciplinary proceedings.
GP admits to allegations
The doctor accepted liability for five allegations which included:
- Signing 149 false immunisation exemptions for unvaccinated children when he knew they did not satisfy the statutory criteria for exemption under the ‘No Jab No Play’ law.
- Completing 177 Medicare vaccination forms to allow the parents of unvaccinated children to falsely claim Government benefits.
- Altering the letter he received from the state’s Chief Health Officer by removing a large portion of text, so it merely confirmed his power to issue exemption certificates and providing copies of the manipulated letter to a kindergarten.
- Failing to co-operate with enquiries into his conduct by refusing to respond to requests to provide records and attempting to undermine Ahpra’s ability to access relevant information.
- Misusing his status as a doctor by sending emails to other practitioners encouraging them to engage in similar dishonest conduct by providing them with template copies of the documents he used to falsify immunisation exemptions.
- Informing the audience at a screening of Vaxxed it was possible to obtain false vaccination exemptions.
Failure to separate individual views
The tribunal considered the doctor’s failure to separate his individual views about childhood immunisation from his professional obligations as a doctor, specifically to uphold the law and be honest in his conduct, had led him to engage in very serious professional misconduct.
He was found guilty of professional misconduct and disqualified from applying for registration for six years. He was also prohibited from providing health services and using the title ‘doctor’ until he was registered again.
Meeting professional standards
While this is an extreme case, it’s a powerful reminder that doctors have a duty to be honest, ethical and trustworthy, and to adhere to the professional standards outlined in the Medical Board’s Good Medical Practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia.
Doctors should only sign documents they believe to be accurate. This means taking reasonable steps to verify the content before you sign a medical certificate and not deliberately omitting relevant information.
While you have a right to hold and express personal views and values, under the code of conduct, you must consider the impact of your public comments and actions outside work, and how they reflect on your role as a doctor and the reputation of the medical profession.
Sharing comments that could be seen to endorse anti-social behaviours or expressing personal views that may be regarded as contentious may damage your professional reputation and breach your professional obligations.
Vaccine exemption guidelines
Due to public health orders mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for a range of sectors, Avant has received calls from members about providing vaccine exemptions.
Doctors should follow the advice from ATAGI and the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) when considering whether a vaccine exemption is appropriate. Temporary COVID-19 vaccine exemptions should only be provided for the duration of acute symptoms of COVID-19.
ATAGI does not recognise the existence of a mental health condition itself as a medical contraindication to COVID-19 vaccination. However, ATAGI has advised that if the potential recipient of a vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process, a temporary vaccination exemption may be appropriate. This is a matter for your clinical judgement.
- Provide vaccine exemptions in line with the advice from ATAGI and the AIR.
- Only sign certificates or documents you believe to be accurate and do not deliberately omit relevant information.
- If you hold views about vaccination that differ from sources such as the Australian Immunisation Handbook, ensure you adhere to your professional obligations under the code of conduct.
Regulators can potentially take significant action against doctors who fail to follow these lessons.