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IPSO rules against ‘misleading’ anti-GP Mail Online article

IPSO rules against ‘misleading’ anti-GP Mail article

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has ruled that a GP-bashing article linking remote GP consultations with stillbirths was ‘misleading’.

The article, headlined ‘Lack of face-to-face GP appointments “caused stillbirths to spike 88%” in England during pandemic, damning report finds’, was published by Mail Online in September last year.

It erroneously linked a Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) report’s findings with GPs and was updated to remove the references to GPs in its headline and first line following negative feedback.

IPSO said that it received 76 complaints that the story breached the ‘accuracy’ clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice (Clause 1).

The article had been originally published in the Daily Mail print edition, but there was no specific reference to GPs or general practice in the original piece.

In its ruling on the complaints against Mail Online, IPSO concluded that there had been a ‘failure by the publication to take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, leading to a breach of Clause 1’.

It said: ‘The Committee found that the publication did not take the necessary care reporting on the findings of the HSIB report and the factors that may have led to an increase in the number of intrapartum stillbirths. 

‘The article had referred to GPs specifically and a lack of in-person GP appointments as a potential cause of increased intrapartum stillbirths, but the report had made no such finding.’ 

It added: ‘There was no standalone reference to GPs within the report: reference to them was made always in conjunction with others responsible for providing antenatal care, such as midwives and obstetricians.’

IPSO also found that the Mail Online’s published correction ‘did not clearly identify the misleading claim with respect to the report’s findings and provide the correct position on that point’.

Complainants said that the amended article ‘remained misleading because, although the specific reference to a lack of face-to-face GP appointments had been removed from the headline and first sentence, the rest of the article had continued to focus on GPs’.

IPSO concluded: ‘The publication had promptly updated the article and appended a footnote, but the footnote had not been sufficient to address and correct it. 

‘In these circumstances, the Committee concluded that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction making clear that the report had not found that it was a lack of face-to-face GP appointments specifically that had led to an increase in intrapartum stillbirths.’

Under the ruling, the Mail Online was required to publish a correction both as a footnote and a ‘standalone clarification’ in order to be ‘duly prominent’, with wording agreed in advance with IPSO and making clear it was published following the upheld complaint.

Commenting on the ruling, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said the article was ‘just the tip of the iceberg of a six-month campaign of vitriol aimed at GPs by certain sections of the media, and some politicians’.

In an opinion piece published by Hacked Off last week, he said: ‘We have been demonised for not giving the same care to our patients “as vets give to animals” and accused of “costing lives”. We have been described as “lazy”, “idle”, and denying patients appointments so that we can “play golf”.

‘While journalists and columnists have portrayed themselves as the patients’ champion, these relentless attacks have had a much deeper impact, not least in damaging the very relationship that GPs have with their patients and undermining public trust and confidence.’

He added: ‘To be a GP, you need to be pretty resilient, but the recent media vilification has been arguably, the worst I’ve witnessed in my 30 years as a family doctor. 

‘These daily attacks on our professionalism, commitment, and integrity have worn us down and demoralised GPs to the point that some clinicians have dreaded going to work or, in some cases, decided to leave the profession.’

Meanwhile, medical students have been ‘put off’ from choosing general practice or find themselves ‘denigrated even by their peers’ for doing so, with ‘serious consequences’ for the future of the profession and patient care, Professor Marshall said.

The Mail Online was approached for comment.

In October, IPSO ruled that the Telegraph did not breach journalist code by publishing Allison Pearson’s anti-GP columns.

It comes as Professor Marshall last week said that the long-standing row over the shift towards remote consulting in GP practices has now ‘settled down’.

Despite NHS England’s instructions to adopt ‘total triage’ during the Covid pandemic, GPs suffered a backlash from the media, Government and NHS England for reducing face-to-face contacts and over accusations that general practice was closed.


Kevlar Cardie 5 May, 2022 3:25 pm

I just whispered a few quiet words of encouragement in the Mails’ ear.

The Prime Minister 6 May, 2022 12:37 pm