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Healthcare Professionals

Advice to BAD members on online abuse

It has come to the attention of the BAD that there has been an ongoing, targeted harassment campaign against a number of dermatologists in relation to statements they have made and work they have done on the topic of isotretinoin.

This harassment has predominantly taken place on social media, particularly Instagram, but also includes phone calls and complaints to regulatory bodies.

In light of this activity the BAD would like to provide the following advice to members if they are targeted:

•             Do not engage with these individuals. If they start targeting you, do not respond
•             Document the harassment
•             Report any social media accounts which are harassing you to the social media platform they are on
•             Block these accounts on social media
•             If you have concerns for your safety, or if the harassment escalates beyond social media, report it to the police

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau also has advice on acting on harassment. This provides information on contacting the police, how to bring a civil case and information on cyber bullying.

Advice from the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) following concerns raised by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) in relation to abuse, trolling and vexatious referrals to regulatory bodies of members who are involved in the management of acne patients with isotretinoin.

It became clear at the end of 2020 that several, senior and trainee, members of the BAD had been subject to bullying, abuse, trolling, threats and actual referral to regulatory bodies when members were involved in advisory committees regarding the use of isotretinoin for patients with acne vulgaris. Similarly, members involved in training and support of patients with acne vulgaris were being targeted by patient groups and their advocates who oppose the use of isotretinoin.

Dr Tanya Bleiker and Professor Anthony Bewley have liaised with the GMC, the British Medical Association (BMA), the Medical Defence Organisations (MDOs) and the MHRA on behalf of members. This led to correspondence and, eventually, virtual meetings between the BAD and the above bodies.

Following a meeting between the GMC and the BAD (25.2.21), the GMC acknowledged that there was a potential problem with a small number of BAD members being potentially referred on a fitness to practice basis as a result of their research, use and advocacy of isotretinoin for patients with acne vulgaris. The GMC were supportive of the BAD and understood the issues raised. The GMC reported a fast-track system for dealing with complaints rather than a full investigation which should see referrals being assessed (before full investigation) within one month. In addition, the GMC indicated that whilst they could not and would not impede the governance of the complaints process, they were mindful to make triage colleagues aware of the potential for vexatious referrals of BAD members in the above circumstances.

The MHRA, following alerts from BAD and other members of the independent Expert Working Group on Isotretinoin who had received abusive and unsolicited emails, letters and on-line trolling met with BAD representatives (04/03/21) to discuss the issues around BAD members being able to deliver evidence-based expert reports to the MHRA about the use of isotretinoin for patients with acne vulgaris and other diseases. The MHRA indicated that the names of members of the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), Expert Advisory Groups (EAGs) and EWGs are published on the Government website as well as other documents including summary minutes, annual reports and declaration of interests.  This supports the MHRA’s transparency policy, allowing all interested stakeholders to be fully informed. The MHRA has taken the concerns about the experts’ ability to provide independent expert advice under public pressure very seriously and was very grateful for and supportive of BAD experts who engage with them. The MHRA does not condone intimidating behaviour towards members of its Committees or EWGs, clinicians or patients who submit reports to us or respond to our calls for information. In response to such concerns, MHRA will be reviewing policies and external facing committee pages and how individuals can be supported. The contribution of the BAD is critical for building trust amongst all stakeholders to ensure the outcome of the EWG supports the treatment of patients with severe acne with safe and effective medicines.

The MDOs (Medical Defence Union and Medical Protection Society) are also aware of BAD members who have been abused, trolled and referred to the GMC whilst involved in roles such as researching, advocating and training juniors in the use of isotretinoin for patients with acne vulgaris. They advise:

  • Contact the MDOs with referrals to the GMC/bullying/trolling immediately
  • Do not respond to any bullying/trolling/abuse
  • Report any bullying/abuse/trolling to your Clinical Lead and Clinical Governance Lead

They also supplied these links:

The BMA was supportive of all the issues raised above and indicated that it intends to follow any developments.  The BMA has an independent and confidential support facility for individual members who are referred to the GMC.

Finally, don’t forget that there are networks available within the BAD and its umbrella organisations for support when BAD members are subject to abuse/trolling/referral:

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