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RCGP apologises after backlash over branding Covid-19 a ‘lifestyle’ disease

The RCGP has been forced to apologise after GP colleagues criticised its branding of Covid-19 as a ‘lifestyle’ disease in a conference title.

The conference, titled ‘Covid-19: A lifestyle disease and the vital role GPs have in beating it’, took place online via Zoom on Saturday and was hosted in cooperation with Sport England and the National Lottery.

Promoting the event, the RCGP had said: ‘Covid-19 is a communicable virus but it is also a lifestyle disease. Obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases are associated with poorer outcomes from infection.’

But, although more than 500 delegates participated, several colleagues expressed their disapproval of the College seemingly blaming Covid-19 illness on lifestyle choices.

Following the fierce criticism, the RCGP has released an apology and deleted all social media messaging referring to the original title.

Among those criticising the terminology was Kent GP Dr Stephanie deGiorgio, who expressed her ‘horror’, stressing that Covid-19 is a ‘virus, not a lifestyle disease’.

University of Oxford primary care professor Trisha Greenhalgh was also among the critics, stating on social media: ‘Major fail. Significant event audit please’.

Other GP descriptions of the conference title included: ‘totally disgraceful’; ‘badly timed’; and ‘unbelievable’.

Responding to the widespread feedback, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall admitted that both the title and course description had been ‘misjudged and misleading’.

He said: ‘We reiterate how sorry we are for the distress that the inappropriate title of this course has caused. GPs are on the frontline of tackling this terrible virus and we have lost many patients and colleagues to it. To suggest it is a lifestyle disease is wrong.

‘The purpose of the conference was to support GPs to offer lifestyle advice to patients generally and by all accounts it was a productive meeting that more than 500 delegates attended.

‘But the title and course description was misjudged and misleading and we issued a clarification as soon as it was brought to our attention. This error should not have happened and our sincere apologies go to our members and to our patients and communities who have been directly affected. We send our condolences to those who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19.’

The RCGP also clarified its stance by tweeting: ‘The RCGP does not consider Covid-19 to be a lifestyle disease. We recognise that the title of today’s conference could be misleading and we apologise for any offence caused. The purpose of the conference is to support GPs to to give appropriate lifestyle advice for patients.

‘Our tweets referring to the title of the conference have now been deleted.’