Anti-vaccination publication is professional misconduct Chiropractic Board of Australia v Simon Floreani (Review and Regulation) [2021] VCAT 1094

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By Stuart Eustice, Partner, Harry Featherby, Lawyer and Holly White, Lawyer

On 21 September 2021, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) found registered Chiropractor, Dr Floreani had engaged in professional misconduct due to his dissemination of anti-vaccination material. Dr Floreani was reprimanded, suspended from practice for six months and imposed several conditions on his registration.

In late 2016, Dr Floreani participated in an online interview on YouTube titled ‘Nazi vaccine regime in Australia’ (interview). During the interview, Dr Floreani identified himself as a chiropractor and stated amongst other things, “we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination”. He likened childhood vaccination with poison. The Board tendered expert evidence regarding similar claims which were described as “inaccurate, misleading and alarmist.” This was not disputed by Dr Floreani.

Around the same time the film ‘Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe’ (film) was screened at Dr Floreani’s clinic in Middle Park, Victoria. The Tribunal holding the video contained material and representations contrary to the Board’s codes and statements. Although Dr Floreani was not present at the screening the Tribunal found that by arranging the screening, he made an implicit public statement discouraging vaccination.

The Board took immediate action and on 27 September 2017 suspended Dr Floreani’s registration on the basis that he posed a serious risk to persons, public health and safety. Approximately six weeks later, the Tribunal stayed the decision, instead substituting various conditions on Dr Floreani’s registration. On 27 March 2018, the Tribunal made further orders by consent setting aside the suspension decision and imposing conditions on Dr Floreani’s registration.

The Board subsequently referred the matter back to the Tribunal to consider further disciplinary action. Dr Floreani admitted the alleged conduct however argued it could not amount to unprofessional conduct or professional misconduct because it was not engaged in during the course of his professional practice. However, the Tribunal found that Dr Floreani’s conduct constituted professional misconduct and concluded that it was necessary to send a clear message to the profession that anti-vaccination opinions have no place in professional practice. The Tribunal finding in its decision of 21 September 2021 whilst Dr Floreani had complied with the conditions imposed on his registration, it remained concerned his statements during the hearing showed he had not fully absorbed relevant Code obligations and appeared to maintain a level of skepticism about vaccination.

The Tribunal emphasising that proper practice cannot include anti-vaccination advice or anti-vaccination commentary, opining they are “entirely outside evidence-based science and medicine as demonstrated by the undisputed expert evidence before us.” In furtherance of this view imposing a term on his registration that he display a sign at his practice confirming he did not provide any advice regarding vaccination and patients would be referred to ‘an appropriately qualified medical practitioner’.

The Tribunal highlighted the responsibility of chiropractors and all health practitioners to provide balanced, unbiased and evidence-based advice enabling the public to make informed health decisions. They were not to allow personal views to influence patient care.

More generally in March 2021, the National Board and Ahpra released a joint directive warning medical practitioners that they risk regulatory penalties if they publish false or misleading information on social media. This case serves as a reminder to all registered medical practitioners regarding the National Board’s approach to the dissemination of advice which could be misleading, without evidential basis or outside of their practice.

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