Yes, though they should do so with some regard to the right to freedom of expression.

This issue arose in the relatively high-profile case of Dr Samuel White and the GMC [2021] EWCH 3286 (Admin).  Dr White had an unblemished career and was investigated in 2021 by the GMC for postings on social media, few will need reminding this was the time of the pandemic.  Dr White published concerns on social media about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine, the efficacy of mask wearing and the false positive rate of PCR testing.  The GMC sought and was granted by the Interim Orders Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) conditions for 18 months ordering him to remove postings, and prohibiting him from posting about the Covid-19 pandemic.  However, that decision was set aside by the High Court.  The Tribunal did not pay any regard to Dr White’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression and accordingly fell into error in taking the decision imposing sanctions.  It is notable that Article 10 is a qualified right and can be restricted on the grounds of the protection of health amongst other grounds.  The grounds however were not considered in the High Court judgement as it was only the error of law – the omission to consider Article 10 – that determined the case.

The GMC and the BMJ both have guidance regarding a doctor’s use of social media.  In terms of Good Medical Practice the latest version of GMP (January 2024) of GMP explicitly includes reference to communications on social media and advertising or promoting products and services (Rules 90 and 91).  It states that the information must be accurate, not exclude relevant information, not minimise harm or risk, declare any conflict of interest, not be exploitative and be in line with your duty to promote public health.  Other relevant rules might include treating colleagues fairly and with respect (rule 48), ensuring conduct justifies patient’s trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession (rule 81), patient confidentiality (rule 22 and 88).

The BMA and the GMC both point out the benefits of social media and that it can help promote patient welfare and information campaigns and network benefits amongst doctors.  They each also point out the risk of compromising your and patient’s confidentiality and the BMJ encourages knowing your privacy settings.  The BMJ also includes some advice regarding harassment and trolling.

A link to the GMC guidance is here –—doctors-use-of-social-media_pdf-58833100.pdf

A link to the BMA guidance is here –

In another case a doctor was suspended for one month for his use of his Twitter account.  The MPT considered whether the doctor had breached paragraph 65 of GMP as well as considering his Article 10 right to freedom of expression and the Article 14 right to protection from discrimination (the subject matter of the posts was transgender rights).   It is important to note that the doctor identified himself as a doctor on his account, the doctor ignored a warning about the many communications, they occurred over a period of time and the MPT found that in some respects insight was not complete.

From a regulator’s perspective a breach of the rules online is not treated differently just because it occurred online.  It is well worth considering the fact that where a breach occurs online there will likely be more clear evidence of the breach because of the digital copy available.    It is worth bearing in mind that content shared amongst small supposedly private groups may not be kept within the group and it may find its way into the public at large.

The GMC will apply the same test regarding your fitness to practice and indeed whether or not it was a public or private post.  For example if in your family or friend online group you express racist opinions, it may still be inferred as a breach of GMP and diminishing the public confidence in the profession warranting GMC action.  There will also be occasions where a minor problematical online post can be straightforwardly dealt with by agreeing with the GMC that it can be removed or amended without cause for further action.

We would advise being watchful of your online presence and treading carefully before posting opinions or sharing posts.  The BMJ’s advice that if you would not want to see your comment published in the newspapers then it would be best not to post it is a good test to have been mind before pressing send. If you have any concerns about your own activity or would like some advice on your own activity please do contact us directly and we can review any issues with you.