Complaint from Doctors’ Association UK about online GP consultations

Due to the high level of interest in the complaint from Doctors' Association UK (DAUK), IPSO is providing a summary of its response along with further information which may be helpful

Doctors’ Association UK complained to IPSO about two articles published in 

  • An article headlined “GPs are improving their work-life balance while worsening the life-death balance of everyone else”, published by on 24 August 2021.
  • An article headlined “Time to turn the heat up on GPs who won’t see us face to face” published by on 1 September 2021. 

IPSO has considered the complaint carefully and has assessed that it does not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

We understand and take seriously concerns about the potential impact of these articles on health services and the morale of general practitioners.   

However, the Editors’ Code makes clear that the press has the right to give its own opinion and to publish individuals’ views, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and distinguishes between comment, conjecture and fact. These articles were clearly distinguished as comment pieces by their style and tone and have to be considered in that context. 

Accuracy concerns under Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code 

The specific alleged inaccuracies identified by DAUK in the complaint were: 

  • That it was inaccurate to say that “GPs are improving their work-life balance while worsening the life-death balance of everyone else”. The complainant said that GPs are suffering more burnout and stress, and their numbers are falling whilst the scope of work is increasing. IPSO understood the complainant’s concerns that they did not consider that work-life balance is improving, however this concept is subjective. The basis for the journalist’s characterisation was the reduction in face-to-face GP appointments due to the pandemic. The accuracy of this was not contested, so there was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point.
  • The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that GPs are “hiding”, where there is NHS data confirming that they are providing more consultations than ever. This part of the article related directly to the experiences of the reporter and others: “personal experience suggests [the GP profession] is hiding behind an increasingly threadbare Covid sofa”. This was clearly not a statement of fact, but a metaphor used to describe personal circumstances. Reporting how people felt about visiting their GPs based on their own experiences using symbolic language cannot be considered inaccurate, so there was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point.
  • The complainant said it was inaccurate to say that as “long as social distancing is maintained in surgery waiting rooms, there will be no return to normal face-to-face service. I’m sorry to say, that seems to suit a lot of GPs just fine”. Reporting the journalist’s predictions in an opinion piece was clearly distinguished as conjecture, so there was no possible breach of Clause 1. 

Concerns about specific language 

DAUK raised concerns that some language used in the article diminished the importance of Covid guidance and could possibly lead to aggressive behaviour against GPs. IPSO’s role is to consider whether language potentially breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code. The phrasing expressed the opinion of the writer, so did not breach the Code, even if some found it offensive. 

GPs and medical bodies not being approached for comment 

The Editors’ Code does not require publications to contact people or organisations prior to publication. If an article contains personal or serious allegations or claims against an individual, it may be appropriate to give that individual an opportunity to respond. However, this was not necessary when reporting the journalist’s opinions of GPs in general, and not seeking, or including, comment from individual GPs or medical bodies did not make the articles inaccurate under the terms of the Code. Further information about journalistic approaches is explained here. 

More information on IPSO’s work on Covid misinformation 

You can find out more about IPSO’s response to Covid-19 here. 

IPSO publishes all rulings and resolutions and highlights complaints related to Covid so it is clear what action has been taken and why. We also include considerations about Code is applied to these issues and highlight key points to support journalists and editors to comply with the standards of the Code. More here. 

IPSO’s blog also highlights and explains key issues relating to the reporting of Covid. 

Published 27 September 2021