Saturday, 19 November 2011

The GMC, the social media and our lives

It seems that the social media is an area of great fear and concern for many of us in the medical blogosphere these days.  With Dr Rant being take offline and in a state of deep paranoia, I decided to look through the BMA's guidance on the social media.

There are many obvious pieces of advice.  'Patient confidentiality' is key, personally I have never spoken of anything patient-related that has happened at my place of work on this blog and this is a wise thing to do.  'Facebook friends' - it is clearly unwise to befriend patients on the social media, still, this is a very grey area.

 'Defamation' this is a very important thing to bear in mind when on the social media.  Defamation relates to 'an unjustified statement about a person or organisation that is considered to harm their reputation ' and is a very subjective thing.  Obviously we all have a right to free speech and for something to be deemed 'defamatory' it has to be fairly extreme.  A good rule to go by is to pretend that what one writes is being published in a newspaper and if it seems acceptable in this context then it is highly unlikely to be defamatory.

I have looked back through all the ferretfancier's old posts and have found nothing that strays across these lines.  I have called Patricia Hewitt an idiot which is perfectly justifiable, I have labelled Liam Donaldon incompetent which is also very justifiable, I have not referred to any specific patient events, I have not been defamatory in my criticism, I have used evidence to prove my points and have not crossed the line into 'unprofessional' behaviour in my opinion.

'Professionalism' is where this all becomes very very tricky indeed.  In fact the human rights act makes it very clear that we all have a right to respect for private and family life, and if any public body starts trying to interfere with this then they will be on very very sticky ground indeed: 

"Article 8 

Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

It appears to me that unless a doctor's behaviour outside of the workplace breaks the law then the GMC or any other public body will be on extremely dicey ground in trying to punish this inidividual.  Article 10 on the 'Freedom of Expression' also makes it very clear that we all have a right to say what we want as long as it stays within the law and no public authority has a right to interfere with this.

It is perverse that the people who are endlessly calling for better patient care and 'patient safety' are the very same people who love to right roughshod over the rights of others to express themselves.  The more free speech and openess is stifled, the worse the implications for health care and patient safety, as we have seen time and time again that we need an open honest culture to drive progress.  A Stasi like system that runs on fear and that kills criticism unfairly with threats works in the very opposite direction to progress.


dr phil said...

Dear Garth,

A few posts down you refer to Lansley as a corrupt lying toad. While lying and toad are reasonable terms of abuse for politicians, i would be more careful with terms like corrupt. I expect that you refer to the funding of his private office, i think that this is a conflict of intrrest, and preferential access that should be declared. While i do not approve, this is the norm for our political parties, and not criminal.

I make this point to consider what is defamatory. Personally I would think that significant defamation would require widespread readership. You or I, or Dr Scot jr would need a lot more readers to significantly defame our politicians, whether national or medical.

Dr Phil

Garth Marenghi said...


Lansley's words look like lies to me, he says one thing and the reality is the opposite.

Corrupt- well, the white paper is corrupt in my opinion!

It's all opinion isn't it!

Sam said...


There is a difference between calling a bill, for example, corrupt, and calling a certain individual 'corrupt'. In the case of politicians, as I have written on my blog before, the media is to be largely blamed for that as it does it all the time and the wrong influence that has on people who then think that since they so publicly display such disrespect, that the public have a 'right' to do the same and disrespect politicians whenever they feel like it too. The use of the word here means 'dissatisfaction' and not neccessarily 'corrupt though. But you see this happening all the time in the public's comments on media articles. IMHO I think this is very wrong and I hope this particular point will be addressed by the current investigation into media practice.

And everybody is automatically entitled to respect as a matter of principal, hence, defaming a person or a group due to dislike/disapprovement/prejudice ... etc, is due to 'intentions' or 'personal choice' wrongly excercised by the person doing the defaming whether with/without causing deliberate hurt. That should not be allowed either whether where it was said/written attracts large readership or just 'one'!

Should the GMC be involved if their 'professionals' cross the decency/courtsey/good manners line at work or publicly, which is an essential componant of the meaning of professionalism? Yes, if the offending incident is due to 'intentions'.

Doctor Zorro said...

"everybody is automatically entitled to respect as a matter of principal"

Really? Where does it say that in the Human Rights Act? While it would be a matter of courtesy to treat people with respect as a default position, there is in fact no such entitlement. Nor should there be. If someone steps out of the shadows and mugs you at knife point are they entitled to respect.

Respect should not be automatic, it has to be earned.

Cockroach Catcher said...

That is why I prefer terms like smart and clever. Indeed he used listening well and Parliamentary Process.

Very smart, very clever.

I am archiving though.

Sam said...

"If someone steps out of the shadows and mugs you at knife point are they entitled to respect."

Only some people disrespect others 'before' they commit such actions wrongly anticipating they may or may not do, is that fair or right?

Innocent, hence worthy of respect, until, if at all, proven guilty, No?

And is it fair that a whole group suffers because of the actions of a criminal few? Because based on that logic, they'd be no more humans to respect left on earth

Sam said...

"Respect should not be automatic, it has to be earned. "

Actually, it's the other way round, that you should 'make every effort' to respect people regardless of who they are and whether you approve of them or not, or how do you deal with your own patients, do you ask them to display that they are worthy of your respect before you treat them?! 'hypothetical situation' here, but what if that ridiculous notion is applied and they fail to please 'you'? What then?

... then again, how do you interpret this;

"Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

... but, never mind, I made my point already, it's up to you how 'you' do things now, and those responsible for you too, and that doesn't include me.

Anonymous said...

The White Paper is corrupt for me, it's just an opinion!

The vested interest of our politicians mean they are serving big business and not the public, this makes it corrupt for me.

It's pretty straightforward.

Garth M.

Doctor Zorro said...

Sam. No-one was talking about patients here, and our professional relationships. We were talking about politicians. And in my non professional interactions I will decide for myself whether or not I respect someone thank you. And Lansley is not on the list.
And article 8 says I have to respect someone's privacy, not their person.
Are you George by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Not long ago, Dr Ferret was singing the phrases of the GMC :). How times change eh.

Rita Pal

PS This was predicted years ago. And Garth when I was attacked as a blogger in 2007 - you guys just felt I deserved it. Now, watch the world change because you and your mates failed to fight it when it matters and when we could do something about it.

PPS I am fine by the way - thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

PS Read the judgment R v GMC Ex Parte Pal - anything can be misconduct.............. which is why you guys have the current situation. Not my loss of course since I tried to do my best. Now its your turn - lets see how you guys can fight this. Trust me - its too late. Might as well shut your blogs down and leave. Its just a matter of time before the GMC gets a court order and discovers your identity from Google.

Rita Pal

Garth Marenghi said...


I agree with bits and not with others.

The GMC are not all bad, even if they are 99% bad, it does not make it right to ignore the 1% of stuff they may do right, even if by mere chance. I try to fair and objective.

Saying that people feel you deserved something, whatever that is, just smacks of paranoia and gives your game away.

I am not running scared of the GMC, I have never said anything on this blog that I would not stand by.

Anonymous said...

That would be a better defence on your part. Our spat is officially over :)


Anonymous said...


I wish I had more time to write and campaign on many more issues, but just because I don't write about them all doesn't mean I don't care or don't want to write about them!

GM :)