Regulator warns N.L. doctors against spreading COVID-19 misinformation online

·2 min read
Doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador have been advised by their regulator to not communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing, and anti-lockdown statements or promote unsupported, unproven treatments for COVID-19. (Hau Dinh/The Associated Press - image credit)
Doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador have been advised by their regulator to not communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing, and anti-lockdown statements or promote unsupported, unproven treatments for COVID-19. (Hau Dinh/The Associated Press - image credit)

The regulator for doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador says it's been made aware of some concerning social media posts, and has issued an advisory to physicians telling them to mind what they say online.

Physicians are being told they must not publicly contradict public health orders and recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are seeing activity here that may require some investigation and some further looking into," Dr. Linda Inkpen, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador, told CBC News.

"Mostly, it's social media activity which appears on the surface to be espousing some anti-vaccination sentiment, and speaking generally against public health directives."

The advisory sent out by the college last week reminded physicians that they hold a unique position of trust with the public.

It noted that doctors have a professional responsibility to not communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing, and anti-lockdown statements, or promote unproven treatments for COVID-19.

Those who "put the public at risk" face investigation and disciplinary action.

Inkpen said the issue has been getting more and more media attention across the country, and the advisory sent out in Newfoundland and Labrador was modelled on one from Ontario.

She said she can't speak to details of concerns the college has heard in Newfoundland and Labrador, but noted that the situation is being taken very seriously.

"This was simply behaviour that wasn't going to be tolerated by a regulatory authority," she said.

"We have a duty to sound whatever alarm and warning bells we can, and to have professionals speaking against public health directives is simply indefensible."

The college is stressing that information shared must not be misleading or deceptive, and must be supported by available evidence and science.

NLMA supports guidance, says cases are 'rare'

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, which represents the province's doctors, said instances like these are rare.

"We fully support the college's guidance to physicians about not communicating COVID-19 information that is contrary to public health, medical evidence or science," NLMA president Dr. Susan MacDonald said in an emailed statement.

MacDonald noted that physicians and patients should use reliable sources, and always follow public health recommendations and guidance.

There has been at least one case of the college reprimanding a physician in Newfoundland and Labrador for disseminating pandemic-related misinformation on social media.

Last year, a family doctor on the Avalon Peninsula was cautioned to "cease encouraging members of the public to breach orders of the chief medical officer of health issued pursuant to the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act."

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