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Will the GMC allow 1.9% of social media fury?

Will the GMC allow 1.9% of social media fury?

Columnist Dr Copperfield criticises the GMC’s latest guidance that explains doctors can be held accountable for private WhatsApp messages

Being of a certain age, I’m not a massive fan of social media, preferring to communicate with illuminated script (younger readers, that’s not a font). That said, I did feel moved to WhatsApp groups and colleagues about the genuinely stunning offer from the Government of a 1.9% contract uplift. And what I said was that they should be TTFO.

What I actually meant was, of course, that either the Government genuinely does view general practice as a sick joke and therefore feels justified in making a sick joke offer, or there really is a conspiracy to run conventional general practice into the ground, using those poor unsuspecting ARRS recruits to act as noctors providing a primary care Notional Health Service. That’s too much for sausage fingers to type out – but no matter, because my friends and colleagues have enough insight to know that’s what TTFO meant.

Perhaps I should flag to the GMC – given their recent guidance explaining that doctors can be held accountable for private WhatsApp messages – that I would never ever write something like that about a patient.

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Or, at least, when I say never ever, I mean it would be very unlikely. But I would prefer to reserve the right to be able to comment privately, among carefully chosen colleagues, that a patient acting outrageously, aggressively and making wildly inappropriate demands could be TTFO as a shorthand for how we would actually deal with the situation. Which, as per the Government example above, I’d expect the recipient of my message to understand. Besides, these days, we’re supposed to write in a way that patients can comprehend, right?

Of course, the wider point is that the more actual or perceived constraints on our freedom of expression, then the less diverse, honest and entertainingly expressed our views will be. Plus, we spend enough underfunded hours in our professional lives to allow for some slack in our downtime when we might like to act like people, rather than the GMC ideal of doctors. And I think therefore that an aggressive slap in the face, whether from the Government or from patients, can reasonably be met with a robust and clear response, including on social media.

Otherwise, ultimately, we’ll all end up as paragon-of-virtue dead-eyed automatons, as if we’ve been implanted with some form of Silicon Valley cerebral microchip to moderate our thoughts and actions into professional and kind mode. This may have happened already. Which is why I say again, regarding that 1.9%, the Government should professionally and kindly be TTFO.

Dr Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of his blogs here



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Barry Sullman 6 February, 2024 6:05 pm

Another excellent piece. But it rather worried me – I think you are right – the government is trying to wreck the system with a combination of ARRS and underfunding. But can they think that far ahead? I don’t think so.

Nigel Rowell 6 February, 2024 6:08 pm

Bang on the money as always. If I get that call from the GMC, I shall make an appointment with the North Sea to dump my what’s app messages..

Karl Jones 6 February, 2024 7:48 pm

What has King Charles to do with it?

Just My Opinion 6 February, 2024 10:33 pm

For me the issue is less about the guidance and more about how the GMC will employ it.
Doctors are held to a high standard, so it is reasonable that there should be some consequence to posting grossly offensive comments, even in a private forum.
However, the concern is the simple expression of opinion will attract disproportionate sanctions, and doctors do have the right to freedom of expression whatever their position in society.
So this is less about the guidance, and more about lack of trust in the judgement of the GMC.

So the bird flew away 6 February, 2024 10:37 pm

Well I heard that at the 1.9% meeting Andrea Leadballoon had such bad cold symptoms that the GPC team handed her a bottle of syrup and said “for cough”…

Malcolm Kendrick 10 February, 2024 1:45 pm

This, 1.9%, is the sort of offer a company would make to an employee that they want to leave, so insulted and annoyed would they be. It would probably be called constructive dismissal if said employee were to go to a tribunal. More seriously, the clear message here is that the Govt would like GPs to leave, and never come back. Whilst the Daily Mail reading public cheers in the background. Then empurples with rage at the fact that you can never see a bloody GP when you want to.

Dylan Summers 11 February, 2024 8:43 am

This isn’t actually a crazy requirement in itself, it’s all the application.

Suppose, for instance, I plan a murderous Shipman-style campaign with a colleague via Whatsapp, and the colleague gets cold feet and passes the messages to the GMC. It seems reasonable that the GMC should be allowed to take a view… and not to say “these were private communications and therefore none of our business”

The concern is that it can be weaponised to enforce the expression of only approved opinions on controversial social/medical issues.

Truth Finder 16 February, 2024 10:35 am

The last I know, doctors are still human and not robots and they should not have less human rights than the average Joe. If we are to be Saints then please build a cathedral etc for us.