Inappropriate tweets

...A colleague at the hospital where Dr T works sent the regulator photocopied examples of some of her tweets, posted under an anonymous handle and including various disparaging ‘jokes’ in regard to patients...

BACKGROUND: A specialist registrar in emergency medicine – Dr T – contacts MDDUS to report that she has had a letter from the GMC in regard to information it has received concerning inappropriate postings on the social media site Twitter.

A colleague at the hospital where Dr T works has sent the regulator a letter of complaint along with photocopied examples of some of her tweets. These have been posted under an anonymous Twitter handle and include various disparaging ‘jokes’ in regard to patients. Sometimes these reference characteristics such as weight or personal hygiene in connection with ethnicity or socioeconomic class. A brief bio identifies her on Twitter as an “A&E doc in the south of England”.

Dr T has also been reported to her hospital and has been contacted by the trust in regard to possible disciplinary action.

ANALYSIS/OUTCOME: MDDUS offers initial advice in regard to the GMC matter and Dr T deletes the Twitter account. She insists that her posts were simply humorous in intent, pointing out absurdities encountered working in the NHS. None of the patients referred to were based on particular individuals. Indeed, she finds it difficult to understand what all the fuss is about – but she is advised of the seriousness with which the GMC regards such matters as set out in its guidance document Doctors’ use of social media.

Dr T later responds to the GMC by letter acknowledging that she has not behaved in a manner consistent with the trust placed in her by patients or the public. She accepts that she has failed to follow GMC guidance and understands that the high standards of behaviour expected of doctors apply not only in professional but private life as well.

She further acknowledges that notwithstanding her attempts to remain anonymous it is unacceptable for any member of the medical profession to be using social media in this manner.

Six months later she receives a letter from the GMC to say preliminary investigations into the matter have been completed and that allegations in regard to impaired fitness to practise have been considered by case examiners who have concluded that Dr T’s conduct merits a formal warning. It states that on numerous dates Dr T posted inappropriate and unprofessional messages on her Twitter account that contained content which could be interpreted as racist and offensive. Such conduct does not meet the standards required of a doctor and risks bringing the profession into disrepute.

Dr T responds to the GMC accepting the proposed warning which will be published on the GMC website for five years and then kept on record and disclosed to employers upon request.

KEY POINTS

  • GMC guidance states that any posting on social media from someone identified as a doctor should not be done so anonymously.
  • Doctors use of social media must not risk compromising patients’ or the public’s trust in the profession.
  • Consult GMC guidance on Doctors' use of social media.

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