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Senior hospital doctor silenced on TPPA

Whanganui DHB tries to stop senior hospital doctor talking about the TPPA

The Whanganui District Health Board has summoned a senior hospital doctor to a disciplinary meeting because of his views on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

“It’s outrageous that this health board apparently considers its unacceptable for doctors to express an opinion on matters affecting patients and their ability to deliver the best possible health care to New Zealanders,” he says.

“Memo to Whanganui DHB: doctors have a right and in fact a responsibility to speak out publicly on these matters without you trying to shut down the debate. Pull your head in.”

The meeting summons followed a TPPA protest in Whanganui last Friday. Emergency medicine specialist Dr Chris Cresswell – who is also the ASMS Whanganui Branch President - took part in the protest, and his comments that the TPPA would have a huge impact on the price of medicine were reported in local media.

The DHB wrote to him earlier this week, expressing concern at his “recent views” which, it said, “could damage the reputation of the Whanganui District Health Board”. It asked him to attend a meeting to discuss these concerns, and the letter cited various documents including the DHB’s Code of Conduct and the State Services Commission Standards of Integrity and Conduct.

“Unfortunately, the letter omitted the most relevant document of all, which is the DHB collective employment agreement signed by all of the DHBs,” says Ian Powell. “This binding employment agreement includes specific clauses to protect the right of doctors to engage in public debate on matters relevant to their expertise and experience.”

For example, Clause 40 in the employment agreement:

“Dr Cresswell is not doing anything out of the ordinary in expressing his concerns about the TPPA, and we will be telling the DHB so in no uncertain terms. His views are in the mainstream of the medical profession,” says Mr Powell.

“Doctors throughout the country have expressed concern about the impact of the TPPA and the Government’s secrecy surrounding its negotiations. They’ve signed letters, made videos, written articles and been interviewed in the media.

“The ASMS is not aware of any other DHB trying to gag senior doctors in the TPPA debate. Whanganui DHB is the outlier and if there’s any harm being done to the DHB’s reputation, then it’s self-inflicted. Unfortunately there is too much authoritarianism in the leadership DNA of this DHB.”

Delegates to last year’s ASMS Annual Conference – some of this country’s most senior doctors and dentists – called for a formal independent health assessment of the TPPA. They also voted overwhelmingly in favour of the following resolution:

“That the ASMS opposes the TPPA on the grounds that health care will suffer from the loss of national autonomy that may result.”

Mr Powell says the ASMS will attend the DHB meeting with Dr Cresswell.


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