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Former medical practitioner who falsified vax exemptions reprimanded and prohibited from using the title ‘Doctor’

28 Jan 2022

A former medical practitioner who created and signed 149 false vaccination exemption certificates and falsely completed 177 Medicare vaccination forms has been reprimanded, disqualified from applying for registration for six years, and prohibited from providing any health service or using the title ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr’.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) made the decision following a lengthy investigation by Ahpra for the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) and subsequent referral to the tribunal.

The Board began investigating John Piesse in September 2016 after receiving notifications from State and Federal government Departments at the end of August that year. The Board received further notifications regarding Mr Piesse, including from members of the public and a hospital worker.

In July 2017, Mr Piesse was sent a letter from Victoria’s then Deputy Chief Health Officer (DCHO) warning him about his practices concerning vaccination exemptions. Mr Piesse continued providing false exemptions and promoted his activities at a screening of the film Vaxxed in August 2017.

Mr Piesse did not cooperate with the Board’s investigation and took steps to undermine it. He refused to produce documents after receiving official notices to do so and provided to the Board an altered copy of the DCHO’s letter stating he had the power to issue vaccination exemption certificates.

In September 2017 investigators on behalf of the Board executed search warrants on two premises where Mr Piesse practised with the assistance of forensic investigators. They seized electronic and hard copy practice documents, including patient records, and copies of the altered DCHO letter he provided to the Board.

An immediate action committee of the Board suspended Mr Piesse’s registration in September 2017. Mr Piesse initially appealed that decision but ultimately withdrew it. In 2018 Mr Piesse surrendered his registration (which took effect in July 2018). He has not practised since the Board’s decision to suspend him.

The Board referred Mr Piesse to the tribunal, having formed a reasonable belief he had behaved in a way that constituted professional misconduct. The Board alleged that:

  1. from January to August 2017, Mr Piesse created and signed 149 false immunisation exemption certificates for unvaccinated children when he knew they did not satisfy the statutory criteria for exemption under the ‘no jab, no play’ law. This enabled those children to be enrolled in early childhood services such as kindergartens and child-care centres.
  2. from August 2015 to August 2017, Mr Piesse falsely completed 177 Medicare vaccination forms which enabled families/parents of unvaccinated children to claim financial benefits from the Commonwealth government, to which they were not entitled.
  3. in 2017, Mr Piesse ‘cut and pasted’ a letter he received from Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, removing three quarters of its text. This altered the meaning of the document, from a letter that raised concerns about the conduct of Mr Piesse, to one that confirmed Mr Piesse had the power to issue such certificates.
  4. Mr Piesse failed to co-operate with legitimate enquiries into his treatment of patients and his conduct, failed to cooperate with the Board’s investigation, and took steps to undermine it, and
  5. in 2017, Mr Piesse misused his status as a medical practitioner by providing information to the public and other medical practitioners about how to engage in the conduct the subject of Allegations 1 and 2.

Mr Piesse admitted the alleged conduct. Mr Piesse and the Board made a joint submission to the tribunal that he behaved in a way that constituted professional misconduct. There was some limited argument before the tribunal about the scope of the order to be made.

On 24 January 2022, the tribunal found that the allegations made against Mr Piesse amounted to professional misconduct, and made the following orders:

  • Mr Piesse be reprimanded
  • Mr Piesse be disqualified from applying for registration for six years (from the date of the orders), and
  • Mr Piesse be prohibited from:
    • providing any health service, whether as an employee contractor, manager or volunteer, and whether directly or indirectly, until he is registered as a health practitioner, and
    • using the title ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr’ until he is registered as a health practitioner under the National Law. 

Ahpra CEO, Martin Fletcher, said: ‘This decision sends a strong message to practitioners and the public that behaviour that undermines the trust and confidence of the public in the medical profession will not be tolerated.’

Medical Board Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin, said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for a registered medical practitioner to behave in such a dishonest way. Such blatant disregard for the law, placing the community, and particularly children, at risk cannot be tolerated. We are pleased with the tribunal’s decision.’

Read the tribunal’s decision on the AustLII.

Page reviewed 28/01/2022