Exclusive GPs have been warned that criticising the Covid vaccine or other pandemic measures via social media could leave them ‘vulnerable’ to GMC investigation.
The warning, from the Medical Protection Society (MPS), comes as a GP is appealing a temporary social media ban imposed by the GMC after he was accused of spreading ‘misinformation’.
Dr Samuel White is appealing against interim conditions imposed on his registration with the GMC following complaints about a video he posted to Instagram and Twitter in June.
In a seven-minute clip, he discussed why he could no longer work in his previous roles because of the ‘lies’ around the NHS and Government approach to the pandemic that were ‘so vast’ he could no longer ‘stomach or tolerate’ them, the Royal Courts of Justice were told this month.
He also raised concerns about the safety of the Covid vaccine and testing methods and claimed that ‘masks do nothing’, the hearing heard.
Dr White, a partner at Denmead Practice in Hampshire until his resignation in February and now a locum GP, was ordered not to discuss the pandemic on social media and to remove previous posts on the subject by a GMC tribunal in August, following complaints about the video.
He brought his High Court challenge against the GMC in a bid to quash the restrictions, which will last for a maximum of 18 months and his barrister called a ‘severe imposition’ on his freedom of speech.
In written arguments, his barrister said that Dr White had an ‘unblemished career’ with beliefs informed by ‘libertarian principles’ and argued that his views were ‘supported by large bodies of scientific and medical opinion’.
But the GMC’s written arguments said that its tribunal had recognised ‘serious concerns’ that he was using ‘language that echoed conspiracy theories about the pandemic’ and that there was a ‘risk’ members of the public would be influenced by him to ignore public health advice.
The judge said he would deliver his judgement at a later date.
MPS medical director Dr Rob Hendry told Pulse: ‘Personal views which may be intended for friends or family can easily be misinterpreted and become more widely available through social media, and all views expressed may be judged as professional matters.
‘Doctors should therefore be aware that advocating against the Covid-19 vaccine and other measures on social media platforms could make them vulnerable to investigation by the GMC.’
GMC ethical guidance, which also applies to social media, states that doctors ‘must not impose [their] beliefs and values on patients or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them’.
Dr Hendry said: ‘The GMC has also publicly stated that doctors have a responsibility to provide sufficient and balanced information about Covid-19 and the risks and benefits of treatments or preventative measures, and allow patients to make an informed choice.’
The MPS would advise GPs who are ‘sceptical’ of the Covid vaccine or the preventative measures in the national public health programme to ‘ensure they are fully up to date with scientific evidence and act in accordance with national guidance’, he added.
And Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), said that it is ‘essential for doctors to remind themselves that the standards expected of them are not diluted simply because they are behind a keyboard’ as social media use ‘becomes ever more widespread’.
He added: ‘We always advise doctors to exercise caution and refer to GMC guidance on social media when posting online, as they will be held accountable for opinions, advice and posts and may be expected later to justify the content.’
Additional reporting by Caitlin Tilley