Online abuse allegations to be investigated in doctor elections
A group of rebel doctors has taken over the board of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, in an election that has been marred by allegations of online abuse and claims of potential breaches of the law.
An independent investigator will be called in to probe the allegations, which also include claims of improper access of people's contact details.
The dispute is yet another sign of dysfunction within the college that was recently slammed for its handling of a high-stakes exam for 1200 trainees, which was abruptly cancelled in the middle of the February test due to a technical fault. No back-up paper exams were provided.
The board election delivered a landslide win to a dissenting group of doctors that had been highly critical of the college’s handling of the botched exam and their response to earlier whistleblower and bullying allegations.
Head of the “reform team", Melbourne respiratory physician Professor John Wilson, was announced as the new president-elect on Wednesday evening. He will serve two years in this role from May, before taking over as college president in 2020.
Professor Wilson said he had not been told what the election complaints were about.
He said it had been a difficult time for the college with the exam saga and unfavourable media reports, and there would be a rebuilding problem to re-engage members.
“We anticipate the engagement program to be more inclusive, using new technology including telemedicine and digital plebiscites to determine the needs of the members to create a stronger and more representative college," he said.
The college has confirmed it received complaints about conduct of some candidates, involving possible breaches of college bylaws and Australian law.
“An independent third party will be appointed promptly to review the matters detailed in the complaints for subsequent consideration by the board,” the college said in a statement.
But the self-described reform team has already raised concerns about how these complaints will be handled by the outgoing board.
“In brief, we are worried that attempts may be made to thwart the will of the membership by interfering with the outcome of a free vote, the result of which may be regarded as adverse by the existing board,” said an email sent by reform team supporters.
“If this were to occur it would be unprecedented in Australia and New Zealand and it could even threaten the existence of the college.”
Former staff previously told Fairfax Media that the college has been an unhappy place to work – and that people felt discouraged from participating in whistleblower investigations.
The college oversees the training of almost 25,000 medical specialists and junior doctors in Australia.