Denmead doctor accused of spreading misinformation on Covid challenges social media ‘ban’
A GP from Denmead ordered not to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic on social media after he was accused of allegedly spreading ‘misinformation’ online faces a ‘severe’ restriction on his freedom of speech, the High Court has heard.
Dr Samuel White is appealing against interim conditions imposed on his registration with the General Medical Council (GMC) following complaints about a video he posted to Instagram and Twitter in June.
In a seven-minute clip, he discussed why he could no longer work in his previous roles because of the ‘lies’ around the NHS and government approach to the pandemic which were ‘so vast’ he could no longer ‘stomach or tolerate’ them, the court was told.
He also raised concerns about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine, testing methods and claimed ‘masks do nothing’.
Dr White, a partner at Denmead Practice, until his resignation in February, has brought his High Court challenge against the GMC in a bid to quash restrictions imposed on him which include barring him from sharing his views relating to the pandemic on social media.
His barrister, Francis Hoar, told a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice: ‘This is a claim about freedom of expression of a doctor, in particular his freedom to engage in medical, scientific and political debate and discussion.’
The court was told Dr White’s video triggered complaints that it allegedly contained misinformation and the GMC referred him to its Interim Orders Tribunal to consider restrictions on his practice.
In August, the tribunal concluded Dr White’s way of sharing his views ‘may have a real impact on patient safety’, adding any doctor had a ‘responsibility’ to provide ‘sufficient and balanced information about Covid-19 to allow any potential patients and other members of the public to assess the potential risks and benefits of any treatment or preventive measures under consideration and then make an informed choice’.
It found Dr White allegedly shared information to a ‘wide and possibly uninformed audience’ and did not give an opportunity for ‘a holistic consideration of Covid-19, its implications and possible treatments’.
As a result, Dr White was made subject to the conditions that he must not share views on the Covid-19 pandemic and ‘its associated aspect’ on social media and must remove existing posts on the subject.
In written arguments, Mr Hoar said Dr White, now a locum GP, had an ‘unblemished career’, with beliefs informed by ‘libertarian principles’.
He told the court the restrictions would last for a maximum of 18 months and were ‘effectively a ban’ and a ‘severe imposition’ on his freedom of expression.
‘The conditions are imposed in vague and unparticularised terms and restrict his speech even over matters outside medicine science more generally, rendering him unable to take part in free and democratic discourse in forums in which an ordinary citizen is most able to contribute to it,’ Mr Hoar said.
He argued Dr White’s views were ‘supported by large bodies of scientific and medical opinion’ and had been ‘statements of fact and opinions about pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions in response to the pandemic’.
The tribunal, in its allegedly ‘flawed’ decision, had ‘erred’ in ‘failing to accord sufficient respect for Dr White’s right to freedom of expression’, Mr Hoar claimed.
He added the tribunal also ‘erred in asserting an ability to determine matters of scientific and medical debate’ and failed to explain why Dr White’s statements allegedly expressed ‘misinformation’.
Alexis Hearnden, for the GMC, said in written arguments that there were ‘multiple’ complaints about Dr White’s video, including from ‘members of the medical profession’.
She said Dr White’s views ‘ran firmly against’ a national public health programme that was pro-vaccine and encouraged mask wearing in certain settings.
She said the tribunal had not made findings of fact nor decided that Dr White’s statements were ‘false’, but had identified ‘a risk’ that members of the public might be influenced by Dr White ‘to take steps which run contrary to the prevailing public health advice’.
The tribunal had recognised ‘serious concerns’ raised that he was ‘using some language that echoed conspiracy theories about the pandemic’, she added.
Ms Hearnden said the conditions did not prevent Dr White practising medicine nor expressing his views privately and that they were ‘justified’ by a ‘legitimate aim of pursuing public safety and for the protection of health’.
The hearing in London before Mr Justice Dove continues.