I agree with Dr Oliver’s stance that doctors’ use of social media can be a double-edged sword. In this era of ‘fake news’, the social media presence of healthcare professionals is crucial in the fight against misinformation. On the other hand, through social media, well-intentioned discussions can quickly devolve into verbal abuse directed toward the individuals involved.
However, it cannot be overstated how important social media has become in raising concerns. Today’s doctors are becoming more aware of certain toxic cultures widespread in the NHS, particularly when it involves speaking out. There are multiple instances of whistleblowers in the NHS being censured or vilified by NHS trusts’ management after having gone through the official channels to raise concerns in the workplace (1). I admire Dr Oliver’s optimism that most cases of doctors’ social media use should hopefully avoid GMC referral, but the GMC’s handling of fitness to practice cases in recent years has left many doctors disillusioned with the organisation (2).
Thus, an increase in anonymous social media accounts has manifested. Prominent on X (formerly Twitter) and Reddit, these accounts act as anonymous ‘representatives’ for doctors. They allow doctors to highlight serious concerns through these accounts to the online medical community without fear of retaliation from hospitals, or thinly veiled threats of GMC referral for not using ‘proper’ channels in a system that has repeatedly targeted whistleblowers (3).
Times are changing. Social media, although not perfect, has become the vehicle by which change (or at least the acknowledgement of the need for change) can be achieved. The online debate regarding the scope of clinical practice of physician associates and anaesthesia associates has arguably led to many royal colleges releasing position statements on the matter, the most recent statement coming from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (4).
Are public social media platforms the best places for constructive, nuanced debate? Perhaps not. They can, however, be a catalyst for the many important issues currently affecting the NHS and the medical profession to be discussed at the highest governing levels. I think they should be championed for this purpose.
1. Hall R. NHS whistleblowers need to be better protected by the law, says BMA. 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/jul/02/nhs-whistleblowers-need-….
2. Mahase E. Doctors call for GMC and MPTS leadership teams to be dismissed. BMJ. 2023;382:p1549. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.p1549
3. Hannant D. N&N surgeon criticised over public spat with colleague … on social media. 2023. https://uk.style.yahoo.com/n-n-surgeon-criticised-over-140000387.html.
4. RCPE. Position Statement on Physician Associates in the UK | Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 2024. https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/college/position-statement-physician-associates-uk.
Social Media as a Vehicle for Change