On 19 November 2018, a Panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (“MPTS”) suspended Dr Hendrik Beerstecher (“Dr B”) for 2 months following his covert recording of Care Quality Commission (“CQC”) inspectors during a review of his practice. Dr B posted the recordings to YouTube and his surgery’s website, accompanied with his mocking commentary regarding an earlier CQC report.

Background

Dr B, a GP, ran a sole practice which had been rated as ‘inadequate’ in certain categories by the CQC in 2016, with the requirement that standards were to improve within 6 months. During a follow-up inspection Dr B recorded the CQC inspectors on hidden cameras and then uploaded the footage to YouTube, under headings such as “orchestrated smear”. The video was accompanied with Dr B’s commentary which included:

  • stating the video would “allow people to judge for themselves” whether the judgements about his practice were accurate;
  • accusing the CQC of orchestrating a “smear campaign” against him; and
  • naming all of the inspectors shown in the video.

Following the publication of the videos, the CQC’s Director of Governance wrote to Dr B requesting that the videos be removed from YouTube as they had caused a “sense of intrusion and distress” to the inspectors involved. Dr B refused to remove the videos.

Use of social media

It is reported that over 1,200 NHS staff have been subject to disciplinary action for the misuse of social media in the past 5 years. You can view the blog of Julie Norris on this very topic here. Dr B’s case serves to show that professionals may still not appreciate the significant repercussions of misusing social media.

Dr B’s actions come after Dr Paul Cundy of the General Pharmaceutical Council recommended that GP’s should consider recording CQC inspections to ensure that they have evidence to support any complaints they may have about the process and subsequent report. Having a contemporaneous record of the inspection may clearly prove to be invaluable should processes not be adhered to, or if findings are in dispute. Knowledge of recording may also prompt inspectors to be additionally diligent during inspections.

Dr B’s approach by publishing the videos online with commentary led not only to regulatory action, but may also be akin to ‘trolling’. The MPTS was concerned that Dr B made “inflammatory” comments about the CQC. MPTS chairman, Kim Parsons, said of Dr B:

The Tribunal is mindful that Dr Beerstcher is a caring doctor and noted that no patients have come to harm but suspension would send a message to him, the profession and to the public that the misconduct was serious.'

Regulated professionals should be mindful of their obligations to the public, service users and their respective regulators. This includes presenting themselves in a professional and courteous manner in publications, commentary and correspondence.

Here are our top tips that may assist in future scenarios:

Complaints or grievances should not be dealt with publically

Regulators have a mechanism in place where the individuals or organisations which they regulate have an opportunity to address concerns, lodge complaints, and seek readdress on a variety of issues. This will be through a prescribed process and should not ordinarily involve public accusations.

Cooperation is key

Regulators are tasked with having a collaborative approach to dealing with concerns/complaints relating to their registrants. Engaging in professional correspondence to resolve an issue is far more likely to provide positive results.

Anonymity is not guaranteed

Although Dr B did not seek to disguise is identity in his YouTube posts, many individuals have been caught by this trap as the real identity behind an anonymous user can often be traced. Additionally, professionals can find themselves facing misconduct proceedings for views expressed on social media which were unrelated to their profession but ultimately undermined the public’s trust in their profession, as commented on by Sian Jones here.

As an example, the GMC’s guidance to doctors on the use of social media (22 April 2013) indicates that all doctors should have respect for their colleagues when using social media and ensure that they maintain professional boundaries.

Commentary

Whilst inspections by the CQC must of course be dealt with in an impartial and fair manner, Dr B’s actions in posting the inspection online with commentary was considered to be a step too far by the MPTS.

The GMC expects doctors to be professional at material times, especially when using social media in a public manner such as Dr B did.

Whilst inspections and other regulatory action can be difficult, and at times daunting, defending your professional reputation must be done in a constructive manner.