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Doctors afraid to speak after harassment on social media

Medical chief the target of abuse online over support for full lockdown in bid to save lives


BMA chief Dr Tom Black

BMA chief Dr Tom Black

BMA chief Dr Tom Black

Doctors in Northern Ireland are too scared to speak out about conditions in the health service due to online abuse, it has been claimed.

A senior GP said he has been inundated with messages of support from colleagues urging him to continue the campaign for a full lockdown.

It comes as an increasing number of messages are posted claiming medical professionals are lying about the dangers posed by Covid-19.

Vile messages accusing nurses of murder have even appeared online after patients contracted Covid-19.

However, Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland, said he has been overwhelmed by doctors contacting him with concerns about patient safety during the crisis.

"Very few hospital doctors are willing to come forward now and speak out because of the abuse they have been getting," he said.

Dr Black said he has also been the target of online abuse for his calls for a full lockdown to help save lives during the second Covid-19 wave.

"That is clearly a burden I will have to carry with me," he said.

Despite the abuse, Dr Black reiterated calls for stricter measures to be put in place as 11 more Covid-19 related deaths were announced yesterday, with 607 further positive cases confirmed.

In other developments:

  • Health Minister Robin Swann pledged that no Covid patient would be turned away from hospital, even though other sick people could die if coronavirus treatment is prioritised.
  • Belfast Trust chief Cathy Jack said the system was facing the "most difficult challenge" she has seen in her 33-year career.
  • Justice Minister Naomi Long revealed she considered her position in the Executive over the "shameful" approach to decision-making around Covid restrictions this week.
  • Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally called for an external review of Northern Ireland's performance, saying our cases and death figures were "dreadful".

Dr Black said the recent Covid figures show the situation in Northern Ireland is in a plateau after the return of the schools and the situation will decline rapidly once businesses reopen.

He warned Northern Ireland is facing a third lockdown before the end of the year.

"If we open up without restrictions, I can't see how we get through Christmas without another lockdown," he said.

Circuit breaker restrictions have been extended by one week, with the partial reopening of hospitality from Friday.

A deal was agreed at the eleventh hour on Thursday after days of political deadlock.

Yesterday Ms Long said she reconsidered her position in the Executive over the controversy.

She said: "We were left in a situation where, instead of doing government, conscious of our responsibilities and the effect they were having on people outside the Executive, we were horse trading in order to get some kind of deal in place."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, accused the DUP of turning the fall-out over coronavirus restrictions into an orange versus green issue.

The DUP used a cross-community mechanism to twice veto proposals put forward by Mr Swann, with Mary Lou McDonald saying their actions were "shameful and depressing".

But writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, First Minister Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland could be confronted by a post-pandemic epidemic of poverty and suicide and a deepening cancer crisis.

"Lockdowns and circuit breakers can buy time and may even bring short-lived victories but they do not provide the strategic or even-handed approach to protecting lives and livelihoods," she said.

Dr Scally, a member of the Independent Sage group, slammed the Executive's handling of the crisis.

"There should be an external expert review of public health physicians and others looking at the Northern Ireland performance, because it is letting the people down," he said.

Belfast Telegraph