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New GMC guidance on anonymity is a control mechanism

We have to be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in order to practise medicine. That is the law, and has been so for over a hundred years. We need some form of licensing of doctors to prevent any passing osteopath, quack or charlatan calling themselves doctor and pretending to be a doctor.

Time was when the GMC was a well-respected organisation that would allow the profession to regulate itself. We paid our annual fees, elected senior and knowledgeable people to sit in judgement on us, ensuring that we behaved appropriately. This system worked reasonably well, and other professions (including dentists and teachers) sought to emulate the model. It was democratic, and I remember voting in triennial elections for people to sit on the GMC. They were the great and the good.

Not any more.

We must now look at what the GMC has become in my professional lifetime. Effectively it has changed into a sprawling monster that wants to control all parts of our lives. This is a serious charge for what should be a serious organisation, but I cannot conclude any differently.

Recently, the GMC put out a discussion paper about its wish to consider doctors’ behaviour when they were not at work. If I were politically active at the weekend (either for the right- or leftwing), that could be used as evidence. This paper got quite a robust response.

However, like all good institutions, if it is rebuffed in one area, it picks up on a different one. This time the GMC wants to ban doctors posting on social media sites anonymously where it is known that they are medically qualified.

It wants ‘Jobbing Doctor’ to name himself.

The grounds for this suggestion appear quite flimsy to me. It is about giving anonymous medical advice to people. My perception of an underlying agenda is more serious. I have blogged for five years as the ‘Jobbing Doctor’. It started out as an online reflective diary of an average GP. I never expected many people to read it, so I’m flattered that I have a regular audience for my ramblings. I wanted people to look at the message I was talking about, and not who I am (which is unimportant).

During that period I have been threatened by people who do not like my opinions: those threats were not to unmask me but report me to the GMC on spurious grounds.

It would appear that, by issuing guidance advising me not to blog under a pseudonym, the GMC wishes to extend its reach.

But the GMC is appointed to its work by the Department of Health. To me, this makes it an arm of the executive. It can ruin me by withdrawing my license to practice and yet I don’t have any democratic vote on the nature of this regulatory body. Does the GMC want to silence me?  That’s how it seems to me.

The Jobbing Doctor is a GP in a deprived urban area of England. You can follow him on Twitter @jobbingdoctor.