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Doctors’ union reports Telegraph to media regulator over ‘misleading’ GP coverage

by Costanza Pearce
6 September 2021

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A Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) letter of complaint to the media regulator about ‘misleading’ anti-GP columns in the Telegraph has garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

The DAUK wrote to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) on Friday to report Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson for breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice with ‘inaccurate’ articles.

The letter, penned ‘in response to an outbreak of misleading articles’ on the current GP crisis in the newspaper, called for a formal apology.

The DAUK today announced that ‘over 2,500 signatures of support were added over the weekend, demonstrating the sense of injustice being felt in primary care’.

The letter said the DAUK has ‘concerns’ about Ms Pearson’s ‘inaccurate suggestion that GPs are “hiding” despite NHS data confirming they are providing more consultations than ever before’.

It also raised her ‘incitement of attacks and abuse against GPs and primary care workers by using inflammatory language’ and her ‘potentially libellous statement that care from general practice is “cruel, negligent and, frankly, inhuman treatment”.’

It added that ‘responsible media reporting is a patient safety issue’, as assumptions that practices are closed could lead to patients not seeking help for serious symptoms or inappropriately using emergency departments and 111.

DAUK chair Dr Jenny Vaughan’s letter said: ‘Factual inaccuracies and negative portrayal of GPs in the press erode the trust that is vital in the doctor-patient relationship. 

‘There is already an increase in physical, verbal and online abuse towards NHS staff and we are extremely concerned about the potential impact such journalism might have on the safety of NHS staff. We call for a formal response and apology from Ms Pearson.’

The DAUK is ‘extremely disappointed by the lack of central and governmental support’, she added.

The letter also said that the DAUK is ‘aware that this is not the first time Ms Pearson has been reported’ to IPSO and has previously invited her to ‘experience a typical day in general practice with no response’.

Several prominent GPs have signed the letter, including RCGP president Professor Dame Clare Gerada, NHS England medical director for Covid vaccination Dr Jonathan Leach, GP Survival Chair Dr John Hughes and media GP Dr Punam Krishan.

Management in Practice‘s sister title Pulse has approached the Telegraph for a comment.

Last month, both the BMA and RCGP wrote to the Telegraph in response to Allison Pearson’s ‘completely unfair’ column in which she said she is ‘not surprised’ GPs have received a torrent of abuse. Another column was published on 1 September entitled ‘Time to turn the heat up on GPs who won’t see us face to face’.

In August 2020, GPs denounced comments made by Ms Pearson that she ‘heard a rumour that GP surgeries not reopening until March’.

And in December 2017, the Telegraph ran a story with the headline: ‘Here is an idea to fix the NHS: let’s get rid of GPs’, which called for more digital services.

It comes as GPs and health leaders have shared their intense frustration over the failure of the Government and NHS leaders to defend GPs against a series of attacks in some sections of the media.

A raft of critical articles on face-to-face appointments, access and GP working hours and pay have dismayed GPs who have spoken of their ‘extreme disappointment’ at the lack of support for the profession from NHS England.

The BMA has launched a public campaign to rally support for GP practices, which aims to explain GP pressures and why it has been difficult to secure a face-to-face appointment over the last 18 months.

Meanwhile, a recent survey from the Medical Defence Union found that 79% of GPs said levels of abuse from patients had increased since the start of the pandemic.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.