Mathew Cochrane, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, was left looking for a new GP after being struck off the list of the surgery he normally frequents in Penarth, near Cardiff, Wales.
Cochrane was unceremoniously removed by Stanwell Surgery after a Twitter outburst in which he stated that the place was run by “incompetent twats”!
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old driving instructor however, was that the surgery saw the “offensive” tweet and sent him an official letter, which requested that he remove himself from the patients list.
The ill-fated tweet came about after Cochrane contacted the practice to make an appointment after getting a letter in the post stating that he needed to see a doctor. Because Cochrane suffers from Cystic Fibrosis he normally only deals with a specialist consultant. Upon receiving this letter he became concerned that there might be a serious problem, but when he telephoned the surgery, he was told by the receptionist that the next available appointment was 3 weeks away.
Cochrane says that he had an argument with the receptionist over practice procedures in an attempt to try and get a sooner appointment and was told to put his complaint in writing. I suppose, some might say that he did that with the tweet!
Cochrane told the British newspaper The Telegraph that the tweet was made “in the heat of the moment” and that he did not imagine that it would lead to him being struck off as a patient! He also said that he received no warning about what was happening, prior to receiving the letter.
He later tweeted a link to Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s page that referred to unfair removal from patient lists. This states that National Health Service contracts require GPs to give patients a warning before striking them from the list, except in cases where they pose a threat to health and safety or where it would be “unreasonable or impractical to do so.”
It also points out that the British Medical Association’s guidelines note that a patient should not be struck from a list for making a complaint, which many argue, is all Cochrane did!
Cochrane’s treatment has caused something of a twitter backlash, with many stepping up to show their support and argue that he has been unfairly treated and is being punished for expressing his right to freedom of speech.
You could argue that Cochrane’s tweet was more of an “attack” than a “complaint” however he states that he did not receive any warning and also questions why the surgery did not contact him to verify it was his account.
He said he does not use his full name on Twitter, yet the practice still managed to link the tweet to his confidential medical records and identity.
He said; “They made no inquiry to verify I am the same person as the tweeter.”
The question over whether Cochrane had his freedom of speech violated is confused by UK laws on “offensive” communications.
Over the last few years, numerous Twitter and Facebook users have been arrested under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. This section of the act details that it is illegal to send via “a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”
This is where the grey area exists. Some would argue that Cochrane’s tweet was only mildly insulting and would by no stretch of the imagination classify it as “grossly offensive”. It is definitely not “indecent, obscene or menacing” but some would take the other side of the argument. I guess it all depends on how you feel about the words “incompetent twats” I guess.
The Daily Dot states; “issues of privacy and lack of warning raised by this incident might have a broader impact than the tweet itself.”
Personally I think the lack of warning is a big factor in this case. We can all empathize, especially when our health is concerned, with being stuck on the phone to someone who is refusing to help us out. The guy vented on twitter, because he was frustrated…he didn’t threaten anyone, he didn’t repeatedly slate the establishment on the social networking site, he just let off some steam from his supposedly private Twitter account and his punishment does seem a little harsh.
Although in saying that, if they have treated him like this thus far, he might well be better off finding another GP!!