Tuesday, 21 August 2007

GMC Tries to Silence Blogger

A blogging doctor is facing investigation by the General Medical Council - for the heinous crime of linking to a document on another website. According to the Register, the GMC thinks the link, posted by Dr Rita Pal on her NHS Exposed Blog, may amount to a breach of confidentiality, even though the original document had already been published by another website and was effectively in the public domain.

Interestingly, the blogger who originally posted the controversial document today had this to say on the subject, in a post called Muzzling Academics, British Style : "Eventually, an anonymous reader forwarded me a copy of the transcript. I read through it, decided that the hearing was a rigged process, ascertained that the document was genuine and I posted it on my blog. This came roughly 10 days after I had posted the leaked Zyprexa documents on this blog. I then turned my attention back to Zyprexa matters and watched as hundreds of people began to download the Blakemore-Brown transcript. "

Clearly, the material that has the GMC in such a lather could hardly have been confidential if it had already been accessed by hundreds of people. Equally clearly, the GMC simply does not like the fact that the internet allows people - and particularly doctors - to blow the lid of dodgy dealings.

Certainly, they get very touchy when people blog about them, as Rita Pal has done many times. I've written about the GMC before, in fairly unflattering terms, and was amused to find them showing up in my logs almost immediately - presumably desperate to find out what was being said about them.

Anyone who's read those posts will have a pretty good idea of what I think about the GMC. For those who haven't, my opinion of the GMC can be very briefly summed up as: An incompetent, inefficient and largely irrelevant organisation with a vastly over-inflated opinion of its own importance and a penchant for hiring clueless, vindictive muppets in place of real staff.

Naturally, that doesn't apply to everyone at the GMC. There are some upstanding individuals who try to provide decent service to both the public and the doctors that they're supposed to regulate, but they are vastly outnumbered by lurching drones who manage to make a retarded mannequin look smart.

Through indirect dealings with this body spanning several years (no, I'm not a doctor), I have come to realise that there is almost no depth to which they are incapable of sinking as they bungle their way from creative misunderstanding, via bloody-minded and misplaced arrogance, to absurd conclusions that bear no relationship to the matter in hand, whatever that may be.

Even by their standards, however, this business of investigating a doctor for linking to a publicly accessible document is bizarre. But behind the bizarre lies the sinister, and it doesn't take much to figure out what the GMC's sinister ulterior motive may be in attempting to take Rita Pal to task over this issue.

Although Rita Pal was the first UK doctor to set up a controversial, NHS-critical website when she established the pioneering NHS Exposed in 2000, she has been followed by a small - but rapidly growing - army of medics. Blogs have made it quick and easy to publish their views online, for anyone to read, without the need for more than a smattering of technical knowledge.

Dr Crippen, Dr Rant and a whole host of others regularly say exactly what they think about the NHS, the GMC and other related issues. The commentary offered by all these websites will strike a hauntingly familiar chord with anyone who's ever had dealings with the NHS.

And, to be blunt, the GMC doesn't like. In fact, they hate it. The idea that doctors - the very people they're supposed to control - can openly criticise them goes right against the grain. Hence this seemingly ludicrous attack on Dr Rita Pal, the biggest, most outspoken critic of them all. In the GMC's tiny mind, they see this as an opportunity to strike back, to send a message to medical bloggers that they are watching, and they will act against anyone who rattles their cage too much.

After all, the web would be nothing without links - that's the whole point of it. If medical bloggers can't link to something that interests them without fear of the GMC popping up like the Spanish Inquisition, they may as well give up.

Of course, all responsible bloggers will check their facts before publishing a link, reviewing the material to see if it is reasonable, sustainable etc. But who could expect them to wonder whether a publicly available document, already published on another site, could be confidential? For that matter, ALL external documents could be confidential to someone - or, at least, someone could wish that they were, even though they are clearly not.

And that someone could then very easily make a complaint to the GMC, as has happened in this case, leaving the blogging doc to fight for their right to say anything at all. That takes months, is stressful, expensive, time consuming, and might even cost them their job! Who's going to risk all that for the sake of running a blog?

Well, thankfully, many people, including the indomitable Rita Pal, whose blog is still going strong. But the GMC's objective is clear - put the fear of Fitness to Practise in 'em, give 'em a taste of power-mad bureaucracy, and they'll shut up for a while.

Of course, it's not going to happen, and the Register's mention of the story has made sure of that. Bloggers are cover the story in their droves, and links to the article are sprouting around the web even now - free speech will not be subdued, no matter how much the GMC may wish to do so.

Billy Seggars.

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