(Image via abc.net.au)

A newly formed association focussed on health reform has held its inaugural meeting, raising awareness of sham peer reviews, providing support for victims and paving the way for a Royal Commission into bullying within the healthcare profession. Dr Leong Ng reports.

Part 1

"I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” 

~ Mahatma Gandhi

OVER SEVERAL YEARS, with the support and cooperation of Independent Australia, I have written much about facets of false and professional reviews of bad-faith, in healthcare.

But then, it may have been only a lone voice in the wilderness, perhaps with another one or two fellow victims.

In July 2014, an online petition was launched to lobby for a Royal Commission into bullying and healthcare administration. As well as my personal experience in 2005, many other reports of professional bullying also emerged. 

The reality unfolded

On 8 April, the newly formed Health Professionals Australia Reform Association (HPARA) held its inaugural meeting in Sydney. It drew participants from all over the nation and had none other than the global doyen of "sham peer review" exposure as the keynote speaker.

Image courtesy Drs Nadeem and Zaheer Toodayan

Known unaffectionately as the USA’s Medicare nightmare, Dr Lawrence Huntoon, a New York State based neurologist, is also the editor in chief of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPANDS) and past president of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).

HPARA had its founding inspiration from him. It has since become affiliated to this mentor organisation.  

Dr Huntoon commented that he was not surprised to see sham peer reviews here in Australia, but did not appreciate its real and extensive extent. He has published extensively.

The participants and other presenters said it all. Most (but not all) of the proceedings of sham peer reviews and bullying of health professionals by other health professionals are online.

I also know of many victims who were unable to attend the proceedings because of work commitments, ongoing fear of the establishment or financial constraints. These stories are equally toxic. They rightly had a first duty of care to their patients, their own psychological well-being and their families — despite adversity, as discussed in Parliament.

Everyone can be affected

The notion of patient harm was shared in a heart wrenching video presented with the talk by Marg Fitzpatrick and Jason, the father of an affected child, who was one of the few non-health professionals who attended. Delegates at the meeting watched in horror and empathy. There will be more evidence surfacing, no doubt.

May I publicly ask the faceless women and men of AHPRA:

"If this is not harming the public, what is? Why is the child’s father fearful of revealing his son’s or his own identity at this stage? Is there fear of possible reprisals by the cowardly medical mafia?" 

Some may know that the boy was a patient of Dr Paddy Dewan, founding committee member of HPARA and convenor of the inaugural conference, himself a harmed victim of the system. He also provided a presentation on “coronial medicine”.

Cowardice and Charlie’s checklist

John Stokes, also a founding committee member of HPARA and a veteran medical practitioner, presented on cowardice. He outlined how he was attacked after he supported a brilliant French-trained spinal surgeon against injustice in 2014. The perpetrators were indeed cowards.

Another founding committee member, Charlie Teo solemnly presented his checklist for measuring the risk of any health registrant being attacked by the regulator and others. He stated it was anecdotal with no validating data but Larry Huntoon privately told me that it very closely paralleled what he had independently published in the USA. 

Sex and the doctor

Vascular surgeon Gabrielle McMullin, in 2015, controversially advised female surgeons or trainees to comply with sexual advances by a male supervisor, or more senior colleague, if they wished to advance their careers. She boldly presented an overview of how sexism operates in medicine and the hierarchy.

I also personally believe that with the rise of women in many sectors public and private, reversed sexism exists, but is denied by profession leaders. There is only anecdotal data on this. 

Damaged nurses and allied health

Where are the supporting resources? The poor nurses suffer and walk away forever traumatised.

Three presentations stood out. Jane Thompson (also HPARA Secretary/Treasurer) recounted her ordeal with the HCCC and NSW Health. Annie Jones shared her ongoing trauma, also with NSW Health. And WA’s Dr Sophie Henshaw, a psychologist, presented a feisty piece.

To whistleblow or to leak?

Many learnt a new term: “the leaker”. Brian Martin, professor of sociology at Woolongong University advocated a “leak” instead of a more toxic "whistleblow". He runs an informative website on whistleblowing. His presentation provided guidance on various ways to tackle sensitive information while remaining safe and so on.

Two senior barristers have their say

The gathering was treated to presentations by Tony Morris QC and Mark Plunkett. Rarely do senior barristers attend non-legal meetings. Mr Morris discussed the "Tension between legal and medical issues" whilst Mr Plunkett presented a scheme of strategies to deal with regulator adversity. Some of them were non-legal and reflected Mr Plunkett’s vast experience as a dispute resolution barrister.

Few may remember that Mr Morris (who was Australia’s youngest QC when appointed at 32) was sacked as Commissioner on the first Dr Jayant Patel inquiry because the Queensland Government was able to take it to the Supreme Court which declared him "biased". To the cognoscenti, Tony was getting too near to the truth — hence, it is said that his work was "shammed".  Tony did submit his version of events to the Australian Parliament.

In this meeting, Tony’s presentation focussed on the tension created by medicine and the law, factual and uncontroversial.

Part 2 coming soon.

If you would like to learn more about HPARA please email hparacommittee@gmail.com, call 0499 399 081, or follow HPARA on Facebook HERE.

Disclosure: Following personal experience of professional bullying, Dr Leong Ng initiated a change.org petition for a Royal Commission into health sector bullying and collected sufficient signatures to network with similar victims and supporters. The health professionals in this group formed the not for profit organisation, Health Professionals Reform Association (HPRA) in June 2015. Leong is a founding committee member. The major mission is to effect a Royal Commission on the matter.

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