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Free speech and professional duty: why I couldn’t fight tabloid rumours

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 09 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d752
  1. Gillian Needham, postgraduate medical dean, North of Scotland Deanery, Aberdeen
  1. g.needham{at}

I was facilitating on a residential course when I opened the email that starts this story. It was from a colleague and contained material from a post on an open forum of a professional website. The words were shocking, my colleague was concerned, and there was an indication that the poster was a doctor in training on my patch. The post contained violent intent and foul language directed against a high profile medical colleague. It was material that was difficult to overlook because the views expressed and the language used would surely alarm the public. The doctor’s likely name was evident from the post. It seemed correct, instinctively—and with hindsight it still seems correct—to forward the email to one of my team for further exploration. I would be out of the office for a while, and this extract was sufficiently disturbing that the writer surely needed help. It didn’t take long to find that the poster was indeed in one of our programmes, and this doctor acknowledged authorship. …

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