A British GP ordered not to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic on social media after he was accused of allegedly spreading “misinformation”, faces a “severe” restriction on his freedom of expression, the London High Court has heard.Dr Samuel White had a ‘ban’ imposed on his use of social media by the General Medical Council (GMC) owing to his personal claims that “masks do nothing, absolutely nothing”. The ban also came about because he voiced concerns regarding the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and testing methods.
He has now taken the GMC to the High Court in an appeal against interim conditions imposed on his registration with the GMC following complaints about a video he posted to Twitter and Instagram in June.
In the seven-minute-long video clip posted to social media, he said he could no longer work in his previous roles due to the “lies” around the NHS and U.K Government approach to Covid-19. He said the lies were “so vast” that he could no longer “stomach or tolerate” them, the court heard. Dr White also warned about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine, testing methods and expressed his view that “masks do nothing” to protect people.
However, the European Medicines Agency has said the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
Dr White urged people to “take off” the masks, especially referring to older patients he had seen with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions who were “struggling to breathe” wearing masks.
“Masks do nothing, by the way, they do absolutely nothing. They don’t help you; they don’t help anyone else. When I was in practise, I was giving patients the exemption sticker […] I didn’t want to see people, my patients, struggling to breathe, and they were frail and elderly most of the time, with respiratory [and] cardiovascular conditions. That’s the worst thing you can do, so take off the mask.”
He also added: “Don’t take my word for it, do you own research.”
Dr White worked as a partner at Denmead Practice in Hampshire until he resigned in February. He has now brought his High Court Challenge against the GMC hoping to reverse restrictions foisted on him, which include banning him from sharing his views in relation to Covid-19 on social media.
His legal team said the case was about “freedom of expression” and argued that the doctor should have the freedom to engage in medical, scientific and political discussion.
His barrister, Francis Hoar, told the hearing which took place at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday: “This is a claim about freedom of expression of a doctor, in particular his freedom to engage in medical, scientific and political debate and discussion.”
The court heard that the GP’s video prompted complaints that it allegedly contained “misinformation”. Following a flurry of objections, the GMC referred Dr White to its Interim Orders Tribunal to consider restrictions on his practise.
In August, the tribunal reached the conclusion that Dr White’s sharing of his views (or way of sharing his views) “may have a real impact on patient safety”.
The tribunal added that any doctor had a “responsibility” to provide “sufficient and balanced information about Covid-19 to allow any potential patients and other members of the public to assess the potential risks and benefits of any treatment or preventive measures under consideration and then make an informed choice”.
The tribunal found that Dr White allegedly shared information to a “wide and possibly uninformed audience” and did not provide an opportunity for “a holistic consideration of Covid-19, its implications and possible treatments”.
Consequently, Dr White was subjected to the conditions that he must not share views on the Covid-19 pandemic and “its associated aspects” on social media and must remove existing posts on the subject.
Mr Hoar responded in written arguments, stating that Dr White, now a locum GP, had an “unblemished career” and held beliefs informed by “libertarian principles”. He also told the court that the restrictions, lasting 18 months, were “effectively a ban” and a “severe imposition” on his freedom of expression.
“The conditions are imposed in vague and unparticularised terms and restrict his speech even over matters outside medicine science more generally, rendering him unable to take part in free and democratic discourse in forums in which an ordinary citizen is most able to contribute to it,” Mr Hoar added.
He also argued that Dr White’s views were “supported by large bodies of scientific and medical opinion” and that he had expressed “statements of fact and opinions about pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions in response to the pandemic”.
His barrister argued that the tribunal had made a “flawed decision” and had erred in “failing to accord sufficient respect for Dr White’s right to freedom of expression”. Mr Hoar also blasted the tribunal for failing to explain why Dr White’s statements had been labelled “misinformation”.
He also said that the tribunal also “erred in asserting an ability to determine matters of scientific and medical debate”.
In response, Alexis Hearnden, for the GMC, said in written arguments that “multiple” complaints had been received relating to Dr White’s video. They noted that some of the complaints came from “members of the medical profession”. Ms Hearnden also said that Dr White’s views were in opposition to the approach taken by the NHS.
She said Dr White’s views “ran firmly against” a national public health programme that encouraged mask-wearing and was pro-vaccine.
She admitted that the tribunal had not decided that Dr White’s statements made in the video were “false” nor had the tribunal made findings of fact, but nonetheless had identified “a risk” that members of the public may be influenced by Dr White “to take steps which run contrary to the prevailing public health advice”.
The tribunal also made reference to “conspiracy theories” surrounding the pandemic. Ms Hearnden added that the tribunal acknowledged “serious concerns” were raised that Dr White was “using some language that echoed conspiracy theories about the pandemic”.
Ms Hearnden argued that the conditions imposed on Dr White did not prevent him from practising medicine nor expressing his views in private and also claimed that the GMC were “justified” by a “legitimate aim of pursuing public safety and for the protection of health”.
The hearing before Mr Justice Dove in London concluded on Thursday, with the judge stating that he would deliver his verdict at a later date.