“Careless, often offensive and at times possibly harmful … .” These are the words a member of a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) tribunal used to describe the conduct of northern Ontario physician Dr. Patrick Philips, who was stripped of his medical licence yesterday for his persistent efforts, in the CPSO’s ruling, to undermine public health efforts during a global pandemic.
Phillips was the subject of a virtual disciplinary hearing held on June 6 by the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Disciplinary Tribunal (OPSDT).
The decision the college handed down was severe: It pulled Phillips' medical licence. He is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Ontario.
Phillips was formerly a family physician and an emergency room physician in Englehart and in Kirkland Lake who came under fire in 2021 for his social media posts in which he made statements contrary to conventional medical knowledge, according to the CPSO.
Along with making statements against the effectiveness of the vaccine between August 2020 and September 2021, Phillips was accused of providing fake letters of exemption to patients who did not want the vaccine.
"It is alleged that Dr. Phillips engaged in disgraceful, dishonourable, or unprofessional conduct and failed to maintain the standard of practice of the profession in relation to his communications, including communications on social media and other digital platforms, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues," said a notice from the college in 2021.
The college further alleged Phillips failed to maintain the standard of practice of the profession and that he was incompetent in his care of patients, and in his reporting of adverse events following immunization. At that time, because of the allegations against him, Phillips was refused the right to practice medicine for the time being.
As the hearing began, it was revealed that Phillips was pleading "no contest" to the allegations presented before the disciplinary panel.
Sophie Martel, chair of the hearing, said her understanding of the CPSO regulations was that the plea of no contest was an acknowledgment the charges against Phillips were in fact correct and accepted by Phillips.
Lawyer Michael Alexander, representing Phillips, clarified his client’s position.
"Dr. Phillips does not contest the proceeding, but just for the record, that does not mean that he agrees with the findings of facts," said Alexander.
Lawyer Elisabeth Widner representing the college said for the purposes of the hearing, a plea of no contest means the uncontested facts are regarded as correct.
"The facts constitute professional misconduct or incompetence or both," said Widner.
A statement of reprimand was delivered during the hearing by OPSTD panel member Dr. Roy Kirkpatrick
“Dr. Phillips, we are dismayed by the deliberate steps you took to undermine the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a physician, the information you communicate is trusted by many. Your communications to colleagues, patients and your thousands of followers on social media regarding COVID 19, and public health response measures were careless, often offensive, and at times possibly harmful," said Kirkpatrick.
He said Phillips had also tried to obstruct testing on a 10-month-old child who had been exposed to COVID-19.
"The panel is troubled by your deliberate and coordinated attempts to deter the public from complying with public health measures. By doing so you heightened public fear during a global public health care crisis."
Phillips was further accused of posting a personal and private letter from another physician, which resulted in the other physician being harassed and abused by online followers.
Kirkpatrick said Phillips' behaviour was unacceptable and deserving of the most serious penalty.
"Your blatant disregard of your obligations as a member of the college, including your purposeful obstruction of the investigation process is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Dr. Philip your misconduct is concerning warranting the most serious penalty," said Kirkpatrick.
He said Phillips' behaviour and comments had nothing to do with science but only fostered aggression and intimidation.
"And so doing you exposed or potentially exposed your patients and the public to harm or injury. You did so in the midst of a health crisis where the public's reliance on medical professionals heightened, we can only conclude that the public interest is best served by the revocation of your certificate of registration.”
Phillips may seek to have his certificate reinstated after one year, but there is no guarantee. If he tries to get certified as a physician elsewhere in Canada, he will likely be asked to answer some difficult questions.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.