AHPRA changes social media guidelines after doctors reported for Gaza posts

AHPRA says 60 health practitioners have faced complaints over their social media posts on Gaza.
Sarah Simpkins
Israeli anti-war activists call for ceasefire in Jerusalem. AAP.

This story has been updated to include greater detail of the guideline updates.

Doctors who call for peace talks in Gaza are unlikely to trigger an AHPRA investigation, the watchdog says in updated social media guidelines.

The guideline changes come two weeks after it revealed 59 health practitioners were subject to complaints between October and 17 January due to their social media posts about the Israel–Gaza war.

AHPRA has received one more similar complaint since, a spokesperson says.

The watchdog has stressed that it is legally obliged to review every complaint, but there are limited grounds on which it will launch a formal investigation.

Its guidelines say doctors and other health practitioners have the right to post on social media and advocate social causes.

Its new examples of what is unlikely to trigger an investigation include “a political statement advocating peace”, such as “calls on governments to use UN and other processes to bring about an end to hostilities or a war”.

In another example, it said doctors who called for leaders to protect health workers and health facilities from attack were unlikely to trigger an investigation if they were accused of ‘taking sides’.

Criticising media coverage of war by advocating media impartiality was in the same category, the guidelines said.

These were “cases that would generally be closed quickly without the need for regulatory action”.

However, it also listed examples that would “likely require an investigation and may need regulatory action”.

These included doctors “post to social media a condemnation of citizens of a country, or a cultural or religious identity.

“The post includes a call to action, such as signing a petition or attending a protest march, specifically aimed at denigrating or discriminating against a population or group.

“Depending on the specific circumstances or events being reported, this is potentially discriminatory and could be a breach of the code of conduct and social media guidance.

“The National Board might take action in response to the notification where the post presents a risk(s) to public safety; risk(s) the public’s confidence in the profession; require(s) action to maintain professional standards.”

Practitioners who posted deliberately biased or false claims would likely trigger an investigation as well, it said.

AMA vice-president Dr Danielle McMullen said the guidelines should help AHPRA’s investigators triage complaints better.

“The conflict in the Middle East has been very difficult for a number of Australian doctors,” the Sydney GP said.

“Doctors want reassurance that making respectful statements on social media, like advocating for peace and protecting health workers in conflict zones, is not going to attract a reprimand from the regulator.

“I think this guidance is helpful in that it is clear that doctors should feel safe and comfortable expressing their personal views in a safe way.”

Across all complaint types, the AMA worked with AHPRA to ensure the watchdog was effectively filtering complaints that were never going to warrant a formal investigation, she said.

“That means, for things that are not going to need an investigation, identifying them early and closing those notifications before causing distress to the practitioner.”

She added: “We think doctors who are making respectful statements, or participating in respectful activities advocating for peace, should feel confident to be able to do so.

“But obviously, as professionals with high standing in the community, we do have to be mindful that even our private use of social media can reflect on the profession and be seen by patients and the broader community.”

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