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Doctors face increasing GMC referrals for Israel-Palestine comments

Doctors face increasing GMC referrals for Israel-Palestine comments

Exclusive The GMC has seen a ‘high volume’ of complaints relating to comments doctors have made online about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

According to the regulator’s figures, shared with Pulse, between 2022 and 2023 there was a large increase in complaints relating to antisemitism and and Islamophobia.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) told Pulse that doctors have been referred to and investigated by the GMC for comments made on private groups such as WhatsApp. 

This has raised concern among the profession, and the MDDUS has met with several doctors’ representative bodies to discuss the issue. 

Andrea James, a regulatory lawyer at Keystone Law, told Pulse they have been receiving an ‘influx of new cases from multiple regulators’, including the GMC, relating to comments made on the war in Gaza. 

Complaints have been made against GPs, dentists, paramedics, and others, according to Ms James.

In a post on X, she warned: ‘Sadly, there are people and organisations on here (and every other social media platform) actively looking for content which can be used to found a complaint, often maliciously or by putting a bizarre interpretation on the words used.’

The GMC told Pulse that in 2022 it received seven concerns related to antisemitism, rising to 302 complaints in 2023.

And for complaints concerning Islamophobia, the number rose from four in 2022 to 46 in 2023.

Antisemitism complaints received by the GMC between 7 October 2023 and 8 March 2024

Complaints received328
Complaints at triage103
Complaints closed at triage213
Complaints under investigation12
Of the 328 complaints received, 316 were made against 67 identifiable doctors and 12 were made against doctors that the GMC was unable to identify.

Islamophobia complaints received by the GMC between 7 October 2023 and 8 March 2024

Complaints received49
Complaints at triage22
Complaints closed at triage25
Complaints under investigation2
Of the 49 complaints received, 42 were made against 21 identifiable doctors and seven against doctors that the GMC was unable to identify.

At the start of the year, the GMC updated its guidance on social media, clarifying that doctors can be held accountable for what they say in private WhatsApp chats as well as public platforms such as X or Facebook. 

At the time, the MDU advised doctors to only post information on private WhatsApp groups and other messaging services if they would be happy for it to be made public.

This week, MPS medical director Dr Rob Hendry said the defence organisation has seen ‘what seems to be an increase in GMC referrals and investigations’ resulting from doctors’ comments about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

‘These referrals and investigations have involved social media posts made on both public platforms such as X/Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as private messaging groups such as WhatsApp.’ 

He added: ‘The GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance states that medical professionals have rights to freedom of belief, privacy, and expression, but that exercising these rights when using social media as a medical professional has to be balanced with the possible impact on other people’s rights and interests.’

Similarly, MDDUS chief medical officer Dr John Holden said his organisation has been contacted by members who are ‘concerned about potential complaints relating to their opinions’ on the topic. 

He said the MDDUS cannot comment on individual cases, but confirmed that doctors are ‘particularly’ concerned about social media comments.

‘We are aware of concerns among doctors and have met with several doctors’ representative bodies to discuss this, amongst other topics,’ Dr Holden added. 

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘Since October 2023 we have received a high volume of complaints about doctors’ comments on social media related ongoing conflict in Gaza.

‘Like all citizens, doctors are entitled to personal beliefs, and there is nothing preventing doctors from exercising their right to speak about or campaign on issues, but this must not affect their relationship with patients, or the treatment they provide or arrange. Our guidance is clear that discrimination is not compatible with the responsibilities and duties of a doctor.’

The regulator highlighted that it only investigates ‘serious concerns’ that indicate patient safety of the public’s confidence in doctors ‘may be at risk’.

‘Doctors and the public can have confidence that if a concern is raised it will be dealt with appropriately on its own merits. A number of safeguards are in place to help make sure that the referrals that come to us are fair, appropriate and proportionate,’ the spokesperson added.

Last month, pro-Palestine healthcare workers blockaded the entrance to NHS England’s headquarters demanding an end to ties with US tech giant Palantir, which they claimed supports the Israeli government.

Note: This article was updated at 12.23 on 17 May to include data on complaints and investigations received by the GMC.

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