Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency “weaponised” against health workers in the COVID pandemic | #socialmedia

The World Socialist Web Site is waging a campaign to expose and end the censorship of Dr David Berger, a respected rural and remote general practitioner and dedicated zero-COVID advocate, by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Dr David Berger (Image: Supplied)

AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) have accused Berger of “unprofessional communication,” and violating “a code of conduct for doctors in Australia” in his posts on social media. Under threat of deregistration as a medical practitioner, he must submit himself to an “education course,” and promise to self-censor his writings, both private and professional.

AHPRA is a government body set up in 2010 by the then federal Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. All health workers are legally compelled to register. Its stated purpose was to regulate health workers and systems, and protect the public from abuses of professional practice through national registration and codes of professional conduct.

AHPRA regulates over 825,000 health practitioners through 15 professional boards (such as the MBA), including doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics and physiotherapists. Its creation rationalised into one organisation nearly 80 professional boards at federal and state levels.

One of the agency’s main functions is to allow for complaints, even anonymously, to be made against health workers for investigation. It can take disciplinary action, including de-registration, which denies the right to practice in Australia. It also requires mandatory reporting from health workers against their colleagues if they are suspected of being a danger to the public, typically for matters involving impairment, intoxication, departure from professional standards and sexual misconduct at work.

While providing no specifics or evidence, in a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National “PM” program, the MBA claimed that AHPRA acted against Berger because:

“When Dr Berger has made comments that disagree with governments, public health organisations, pharmaceutical companies, he has done so using emotional and pejorative language. When referred to in this manner it would be reasonable for the reader to doubt the integrity of the persons and organisations targeted, and to lose confidence in the public health pronouncements and programmes promoted by them.”

This is not protecting the public but political censorship and denial of democratic rights. Dr Berger has sought, since day one of the COVID pandemic, to bring scientific clarity and explain the measures required to protect lives and eliminate the virus. He has criticised the decisions of state and federal governments to drop any protective public health measures, “letting COVID rip” and resulting in more than 11,000 dead in Australia—over 8,000 this year alone.

The agency’s attack on Berger has evoked a powerful response among health care workers. A “Free Speech for Doctors” open letter issued by some of Australia’s most prominent clinicians and scientists, and signed by over 1,700 doctors, scientists, and other workers and members of the public in Australia and internationally, opposes AHPRA’s actions.

The letter commends Dr Berger for “his clear, honest sustained contribution to public health through his personal and corporate advocacy and his unblemished clinical record.” It condemns AHPRA’s demands for silence as “in breach of our ethical and moral obligations,” as “governments may formulate public health policies that are not in the best interests [emphasis added]of the community, and dissenting doctors may take a position that is for the better interest of population health.”

The letter demands the “revocation of the conditions placed on Dr Berger on the basis that it is unreasonable to expect all registrants to always support government public health settings.”

It further condemns “changes to policy that now enable AHPRA to punish doctors for speaking out should be urgently reviewed, along with the remit of AHPRA as a blanket defender of government health policy.”

Policy changes made by AHPRA in 2019 and 2021 allow it to regulate social media posts made by health workers in a private capacity. These measures have been used to censor Berger, as the agency can threaten disciplinary action for vaguely defined breaches of “professional boundaries” in virtually every social media setting.

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