‘Bizarre’: Physicians college set to vote on creating elite fellowship group

The so-called 'Respected Fellows' would be limited to just 60 doctors

This story has been updated. See below.

An attempt to create an elite group of fellows at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians to examine cases of college members accused of misconduct has been dubbed bizarre and anti-democratic.

Next week the college will vote on key changes to its constitution for the creation of a new membership category of so-called “Respected Fellows”.

Their number will be limited to no more than 60 and restricted to doctors who have held fellowship for at least 10 years.

There are no details on the selection criteria that would be applied or who will make the appointments.

But from the group, at least three “respected fellows” would be randomly chosen to sit on a committee tasked with reviewing “all alleged code of conduct breaches made against a RACP member, director or other member office holder”.

The proposal has been drawn up by a New Zealand rheumatologist Dr John O’Donnell.

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The committee’s precise powers — including whether it could carry out its own investigations into college members — also remains unclear.

But the plan seems to have the backing of at least 133 college members who triggered an extraordinary general meeting scheduled for 6 May, when the college will vote on the controversial changes.

Current board member Professor Paul Komesaroff described the plan as elitist and bizarre.

“The concept that an unrepresentative group of older fellows could be appointed in unspecified ways to exercise power over the rest of us is anachronistic and objectionable, almost to the point of being bizarre,” the president of the adult medicine faculty wrote in an email to college members this week.  

“The proposals are anti-democratic and are opposed to the most fundamental values of the college, which is an organisation in which all members are equal.”

Australian Doctor has attempted to contact Dr O’Donnell for his response to the claims.

The college’s calls for constitutional reform follow a series of unwanted headlines in the media, most notably the mass failure of registrar examinations last year when IT glitches led the college to abandon the exam halfway through — forcing 1200 trainees to resit it at a later date.

But many of its problems in recent years have centred on a bitter, internal conflict.

Three years ago, complaints were lodged about an investigation into alleged misconduct and irregularities during the 2016 elections, which resulted in the election of current president Dr Mark Lane.

There is no suggestion that the allegations related to any actions by Dr Lane himself.

And last year, the college investigated further complaints into the election campaign run by a reform group which included Dr John Wilson, who was elected president elect on a joint ticket with other board candidates pledging to reform the college.

The complainants argued the group might have inappropriately used email addresses of members held by the college to canvass support.

An independent review was conducted last year and they were subsequently cleared of breaching any college rules.

The extraordinary general meeting takes place at the RACP conference in Auckland on 6 May.

However, proxy votes for members who cannot attended must be lodged by 12.45pm on Saturday 4 May.

The resolution will be passed if 75% of those who vote support it.

The original version of this article referred to the RACP’s “emergency” general meeting. This was incorrect. It should have stated it was an “extraordinary” general meeting.