Upsetting comments on social media

The scene

A GP contacted the MDU advice line after a receptionist showed her comments about the practice on a social networking site. The individual had described a consultation with the GP inaccurately, and made disparaging remarks about the GP’s appearance, as well as her clinical abilities. The GP also felt threatened, because the individual had stated that the GP needed to have her “arrogant smile wiped off her face”.

The GP was understandably upset. She explained that she knew which patient had written this, because she recalled the consultation that had been described, and it matched the name of the social media user. The GP was particularly upset because the patient had not shown any indication of being unhappy with the consultation at the time, and had not contacted the practice directly with their concerns.

The GP had discussed the case with her colleagues, who strongly felt that the patient’s behaviour warranted removal from the practice list. The GP was seeking advice on how to respond to the comments. 

MDU advice

The MDU adviser agreed that the comments were offensive and worrying. The adviser warned that although it was tempting to respond directly via the same social network, the GP needed to remember her duty of confidentiality. The GMC says doctors must not use publicly accessible social media to discuss patients or their care with those patients or anyone else.

The adviser pointed out that any response could generate further interest in the post, and therefore the GP could choose not to respond at all on the site.

However, another option that might be appropriate would be to reply to the comment, apologising if they are not happy with their treatment and inviting them to get directly in touch to discuss any concerns. 

The adviser also suggested that the GP consider contacting the site's administrators to report the comments. If the comments contravened its community standards, the site could take action to remove them.

Finally the MDU adviser suggested the GP discuss with her colleagues whether the comments justified sending the patient a warning letter, before removal from the practice list, in line with the practice’s zero tolerance policy and on the basis of a breakdown in the doctor patient relationship. The adviser also explained that if the GP felt physically threatened by this patient, then they could justify reporting their concerns to the police. 


The GP felt that after considering this advice, she would report the post to the site's administrators, and then proceed with sending a warning letter making clear that a repetition of the behaviour within a year could result in removing the patient from the practice list. There were no further comments from the patient.


This page was correct at publication on 02/07/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.