Doctors who criticise vaccines or lockdown policies on social media could face being struck off if regulators rule they are guilty of spreading ‘fake news’, according to new guidance from the GMC. The Telegraph has the story.
The core guidance for medics has been updated for the first time in almost a decade to cover media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The rules on use of social media include a duty to be “honest” and “not to mislead”, as well as to avoid abuse or bullying.
The draft regulations from the General Medical Council (GMC) – which the watchdog describes as a 21st-century version of the Hippocratic Oath – also say doctors must speak out if they encounter “toxic” workplace cultures that threaten patient safety. And they say medics must take action if they encounter workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination.
The watchdog regulates doctors, who can face a range of sanctions – including being struck off the medical register – if they are found to have failed in their duties.
Charlie Massey, the Chief Executive of the GMC, said… the fundamental principles of the guidance remained the same, but had been updated to reflect the modern world.
“We’ve had feedback that doctors want more clarity on using social media. We are already clear that doctors must be honest and trustworthy in their communications, and are now emphasising that this applies to all forms of communication. The principles remain the same whether the communication is written, spoken or via social media,” he said.
The use of social media by medics has become an increasingly vexed issue during the pandemic, the report adds.
In December a judge ruled that the GMC’s interim orders tribunal had made an “error of law” when it ordered a GP accused of spreading misinformation to stop discussing Covid on social media.
Dr. Samuel White, who was a partner at a practice in Hampshire, raised concerns about vaccines and claimed “masks do nothing” in a video posted last June.
The GMC’s Interim Orders Tribunal imposed restrictions on Dr. White’s registration as a result. But the High Court said this decision was “wrong” under human rights law.
He had claimed “lies” around the NHS and Government approach to the pandemic were “so vast” that he could no longer “stomach or tolerate” them.
In August, the tribunal concluded Dr. White’s way of sharing his views “may have a real impact on patient safety”. It found Dr. White allegedly shared information to a “wide and possibly uninformed audience” and did not give an opportunity for “a holistic consideration of COVID-19, its implications and possible treatments”.
But the GP’s barrister, Francis Hoar, argued the restrictions imposed on his client’s registration were a “severe imposition” on his freedom of expression.
The draft guidance says doctors can be held accountable for promoting misleading information or stepping outside areas of their expertise. They are told to “be honest and trustworthy … make clear the limits of your knowledge.. [and to] make reasonable checks to make sure any information you give is not misleading.
“This applies to all forms of written, spoken and digital communication,” the draft guidance states. And doctors are warned that online rows and trolling could jeopardise their professional futures.
It is of course outrageous that medics should be at risk of losing their career for questioning on Twitter the Government line on its draconian public health interventions. If there’s one thing we were lacking during the pandemic it was not an excess of conformity amongst doctors. The right of medics to ‘informed dissent’ should be strengthened, as per the High Court ruling in favour of Dr. White, not weakened.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Government advisers I can think of who could do with being penalised for “stepping outside areas of their expertise”. Somehow I doubt anything similar will ever be applied to them, however.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: The GMC guidance is still the subject of a public consultation – and anyone can contribute. Click here to begin the process.