The Telegraph did not breach journalist code by publishing Allison Pearson’s recent anti-GP columns, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has ruled.
The columns in question – ‘GPs are improving their work-life balance while worsening the life-death balance of everyone else‘ and ‘Time to turn the heat up on GPs who won’t see us face to face’ – did not break the Editor’s Code because they were ‘clearly distinguished as comment pieces’, the regulator said.
The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), which made the IPSO complaint last month, has lodged a formal appeal against the decision.
In making the ruling, IPSO said it does ‘understand and take seriously concerns about the potential impact of these articles on health services and the morale of general practitioners’.
But it added that the Editors’ Code ‘makes clear that the press has the right to give its own opinion and to publish individuals’ views, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and distinguishes between comment, conjecture and fact’.
‘These articles were clearly distinguished as comment pieces by their style and tone and have to be considered in that context,’ it concluded.
Ms Pearson’s suggestion that GPs are ‘hiding’ was ‘clearly not a statement of fact but a metaphor used to describe personal circumstances’ and therefore ‘cannot be considered inaccurate’, IPSO added.
Other specific points of concern raised by the DAUK were assessed to be ‘subjective’ and ‘conjecture’ and therefore also not in breach of IPSO’s accuracy clause.
The language in the columns, which the DAUK had warned could ‘lead to aggressive behaviour’ against GPs, ‘expressed the opinion of the writer so did not breach the code, even if some found it offensive’, IPSO concluded.
The DAUK said it would formally appeal the ruling.
A union spokesperson said: ‘We maintain the view that these articles clearly and persistently demonstrate inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
‘At no point during the writing of these articles does Ms Pearson attempt to distinguish her comments from fact or conjecture. Opinions cannot contradict facts.’
Ms Pearson’s ‘persistent mischaracterisation of an entire national workforce based on a small number of anecdotes is inaccurate, misleading and disingenuous’, they added.
Comments describing GP services as ‘cruel, negligent and, frankly, inhuman treatment’ are ‘not based on fact’ since the NHS’s latest GP patient survey found that more than eight in ten patients had an overall ‘good’ experience of their GP practice this year, the DAUK argued.
‘We respectfully urge you to review our initial complaint which has 3,261 signatures of support (we invite you to read some of the signatories’ comments on our Instagram page).
‘We request you provide irrefutable evidence that Ms Pearson’s writings merely represent nothing more than opinion and conjecture.’
The DAUK’s letter of complaint reporting Ms Pearson has had 3,261 signatures in support, including from RCGP president Professor Dame Clare Gerada, NHS England medical director for Covid vaccination Dr Jonathan Leach, GP Survival Chair Dr John Hughes and media GP Dr Punam Krishan.
It comes as last year, GPs denounced comments made by Ms Pearson that she ‘heard a rumour that GP surgeries not reopening until March’.
GPs and health leaders have shared their intense frustration over the failure of the Government and NHS leaders to defend GPs against a series of attacks in some sections of the media.
It comes as the BMA has launched a survey into general practice’s response to the current abuse and workload crises, asking whether GPs would consider leaving the NHS or handing in undated resignations among other actions.
Pulse has approached the Telegraph for comment.