Thursday, 4 April 2013

Calling all BMA members on GMC social media guidance

The BMA are keen for all members to email them with any concerns they may have over the GMC's social media guidance.  I have written an email summarising my concerns and it is below. Feel free to use the letter yourself, or do email me at if you are a BMA member and you want me to add your name to the letter, obviously email me your BMA membership number with your name!

"Dear BMA

I am writing to you regarding several concerns I have about the GMC's social media guidance:

1. "If you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by authors who represent themselves as doctors is likely to be taken on trust and may reasonably be taken to represent the views of the profession more widely."

This piece of guidance appears to contravene the Human Rights Act, article 8, which entitles doctors with the right to a private life.  'Any material written' could refer to political opinion, sporting opinion or even gardening.  Surely every doctor should have the right to anonymity in the social media unless they are giving out clinical advice to individual patients.  This needs further clarification and if the GMC state that this applies to all material written, then legal advice must be sought and the guidance challenged, as it appears in breach of the Human Rights Act.

2. "You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession."

This piece of guidance is incredibly vague.  It is again arguable that doctors, when discussing non-clinical matters in their private time on the social media, have every right to behave in any way that they choose, providing that this is within the law.  It is arguable that this contravenes the Human Rights Act, article 8, again.

3. "Good medical practice says that doctors must treat colleagues fairly and with respect.  This covers all situations and all forms of interaction and communication.You must not bully, harass or make gratuitous, unsubstantiated or unsustainable comments about individuals online"

This piece of guidance is extremely vague and needs further clarification.  What is a 'colleague'? Most people would define a colleague as someone they have had direct contact with at work (face to face or by telephone for example).  If 'colleague' refers to any doctor on the GMC register then this piece of guidance has truly bizarre implications.  It may mean that criticising a politician who is a doctor may be something that the GMC could investigate and punish.  Again, surely doctors should be able to behave as they see fit in their private time when discussing non-clinical matters in the social media.  There is again an argument that this contravenes the Human Rights Act by interfering with the right of doctors to a private life. 

Yours Sincerely"


David Doherty said...

Thank you for posting this important letter to help busy Doctors share concerns about this advice document.

It might be worth considering adding a mention of the extra privacy concerns that this "should identify yourself" requirement will introduce for Doctors.

There are several reasons how Patients could be harmed because this GMC Guidance will make their Doctors more vulnerable to fraudsters.

Peter English said...

Doctors should be as able to post anonymously as anybody else. The original form of the guidance was perfect - why the need to impose additional restrictions on doctors? I have collated a number of reasons why this is not just necessary but may well have adverse effects in my blog.

Dr Aust (PhD not MD!) said...

Judging from the comments published over at Pulse, the 3rd stricture may owe something to Dr Una Coales of internet fame.