For some time now the GMC have been seeking to extend their tyrannical grip of doctors, not just in the professional area, but also into their private lives. Their recent poll on whether they should regulate doctors’ private behaviour got the sort of response it deserved and they had to shelve that one.
But they don’t give up, and now they are introducing “guidance” on how doctors use the social media. This might superficially seem like a reasonable idea. However the existing rules on patient confidentiality are already robust enough to extend to the web, and any doctor stupid enough to identify specific patients can already be dealt with.
So it has to be the case that these rules are really aimed at a doctor’s private life. one particular paragraph that caught my eye was this one.
“doctors should treat colleagues fairly and with respect and should not bully, harass or make gratuitous, unsubstantiated or unsustainable comments about individuals online. They should usually identify themselves and be aware that any information uploaded anonymously will often be able to be traced back to its origin.”
This again at first sight might seem reasonable, but bear in mind that if anyone thinks they have been libelled they already have access to redress under the existing law, that many think is itself far too skewed in favour of the plaintiff. They can also complain to the GMC if anything is said that undermines a patient’s trust in his doctor. (Para 47).
And there is the threat, thinly veiled. You should identify yourself. None of us on the web has a right to anonymity, and this has recently been confirmed in a court case, but nor are we obliged to identify ourselves. Where appropriate a court order can be issued forcing an ISP to identify bloggers and the like but the GMC clearly want to bypass this safeguard. And the last line translates to “we can find out who you are”.
The rules as proposed could easily be abused to silence criticism of the GMC itself, and individuals within it, and are an assault on freedom of speech. If forced to identify themselves most medical bloggers would cease blogging and the voice of dissent would be silenced. Perhaps that is exactly what they are trying to do.