The Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) has ruled an article disparaging GPs linking remote GP visits to stillbirths to be “misleading”.
The article, headlined ‘Lack of face-to-face appointments with a GP’ caused stillbirths to rise to 88% ‘in England during pandemic, according to damning report’, was published by Mail online in September of last year.
It mistakenly linked the findings of a Health Care Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) report to GPs and has been updated to remove references to GPs in its title and first line at the aftermath of negative comments.
IPSO said it had received 76 complaints that the story breached the “accuracy” clause of the publishers’ code of practice (clause 1).
The article was originally published in the Daily mail print edition, but there was no specific reference to GPs or general medicine in the original piece.
In its decision on the complaints against Mail onlineIPSO concluded that there had been “a failure on the part of the publication to take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, resulting in a breach of Article 1”.
He said: ‘The committee found that the publication had not taken the necessary care to report the findings of the HSIB report and the factors that may have led to an increase in the number of intrapartum stillbirths.
“The article specifically referred to GPs and lack of GP appointments as a potential cause of increased intrapartum stillbirths, but the report made no such conclusion.”
He added: “There was no stand-alone reference to GPs in the report: reference to them was always made in conjunction with others responsible for providing antenatal care, such as midwives and obstetricians.”
IPSO also found that the Mail onlineThe correction posted by ‘did not clearly identify the misleading claim with respect to the report’s findings and did not provide the correct position on this point’.
Complainants said the amended article “remained misleading because, although the specific reference to a lack of a face-to-face appointment with a GP was removed from the title and first sentence, the rest of the article had continued to focus on GPs”.
IPSO concluded: “The publication promptly updated the article and added a footnote, but the footnote was not sufficient to address and correct it.
“In these circumstances, the committee concluded that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction making it clear that the report did not find that it was a lack of a face-to-face appointment with a general practitioner which had specifically leads to an increase in intrapartum stillbirths. ‘
Under the judgment, the Mail online was required to issue a correction both as a footnote and as a “stand-alone clarification” in order to be “duly highlighted”, with wording agreed in advance with IPSO and clearly stating that it was published as a result of the upheld complaint.
Commenting on the decision, RCGP chairman Professor Martin Marshall said the article was “just the tip of the iceberg in a six-month campaign of vitriol aimed at GPs by certain sections of the media and some politicians.
In an opinion piece published by Be fed up Last week, he said: “We have been demonized for not giving the same care to our patients ‘veterinarians give to animals’ and accused of ‘costing lives’. We have been described as ‘lazy’, ‘idle’ and refusing patient appointments so we can “play golf”.
“While journalists and columnists have presented themselves as champions for patients, these relentless attacks have had a much deeper impact, including damaging the very relationship GPs have with their patients and undermining public trust. “
He added: ‘To be a GP you have to be pretty tough, but the recent media smear has arguably been the worst I’ve seen in my 30 years as a family doctor.
“These daily attacks on our professionalism, commitment and integrity have exhausted and demoralized us GPs to the point that some clinicians have dreaded going to work or, in some cases, have decided to leave the profession.”
Meanwhile, medical students have been ‘dissuaded’ from choosing general practice or find themselves ‘disparaged even by their peers’ for doing so, with ‘serious consequences’ for the future of the profession and care to patients, Professor Marshall said.
the Mail online was approached for comment.
In October, IPSO decided that the Telegraph did not violate the journalist code by publishing Allison Pearson’s anti-GP columns.
It comes as Prof Marshall said last week that the long-running row over the switch to remote consultation in GP surgeries had now ‘calmed down’.
Despite instructions from NHS England to adopt ‘total triage’ during the Covid pandemic, GPs have faced a backlash from the media, government and NHS England for reducing face-to-face contact and for charges of closing general medicine.