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Letter to the GMC

The Greener Practice directors have written a letter to the GMC with regard to the GMC’s current approach to doctors who take part in peaceful climate action.

27 th April 2024

Dear Professor Dame MacEwen and Mr Massey, 

As directors of Greener Practice Community Interest Company (CIC), the UK’s primary care sustainability network, we are deeply concerned at the GMC’s current approach to doctors who are acting to protect and promote the health of current and future populations through peaceful climate activism.  

You released a statement on 24th April, following the outcome of Dr Sarah Benn’s Medical Fitness to Practice Tribunal, commenting that doctors are free to protest, lobby governments and campaign (1). However, the reality is that the respected voices of doctors as trusted messengers will potentially be stifled due to new concerns that they may appear in front of such a tribunal. Doctors also risk losing the trust of their patients if the public associates any form of peaceful climate protest with high profile cases of suspension. 

This week’s GMC statement makes clear that, “the suspension is not for protesting about climate change but for multiple breaches of a court order which resulted in a custodial sentence”. It goes on to state that patients and the public have a high degree of trust in doctors which can be eroded if doctors do not comply with the law. In this case, the law being upheld is an injunction taken out by an oil company against protest. The injunction is not protecting patients or the public, millions of whom will face increasingly poor health and premature death as the climate and ecological emergency deepens. The climate crisis is the biggest health threat of the 21 st century, and last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced a communication toolkit urging all healthcare professionals to speak to patients, journalists, policy makers and those in power about the need to act now (2).  

As the British Medical Association (BMA) has said, “many [people] will find it very difficult to understand that [doctors’] ability to practise medicine could be suspended because of peaceful
actions they take in protest of the climate crisis” (3). On 12th April 2024, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Environmental Defenders issued a public statement which implied that disciplinary action against doctors for participation in peaceful environmental protest could breach Article 3(8) of the Aarhus Convention, by which the UK is bound (4).   

We urge the GMC to look at the bigger picture at stake: the planetary life support system upon which all human life depends. The GMC has a uniquely powerful leadership position from which to adopt the principles of the WHO’s communication toolkit. We ask the GMC to publicly call
into question laws which support the burning of fossil fuels rather than ensuring the protection of doctors who seek to follow your guidance by “making the care of patients the first concern”
and “protecting and promoting the health of patients and the public” (5). 

Please reconsider your approach to the case of Dr Benn and those yet to be heard. As the regulatory body for the UK’s doctors, we urge you to ensure you are on the right side of history. 

Yours faithfully, 
Greener Practice CIC directors: 
Dr Katrina Davies MBBS BSc MRCGP MMedSci Frailty
Dr Aarti Bansal MBChB FRCGP M.Ed
Dr Honey Smith BMBS BMedSci MRCGP
Dr Tamsin Ellis MBChB MRCGP
Dr Kath Brown MBChB

  1. Statement following the outcome of Dr Sarah Benn tribunal – GMC (
    (Accessed 24th April 2024) 
  2. Communicating on climate change and health: toolkit for health professionals. Geneva:
    World Health Organization; 2024. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. 
  3. ‘Worrying’ message being sent to other doctors following Dr Benn ruling, warns BMA –
    BMA media centre – BMA 
  4. Statement from UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst – Lawyers Are Responsible
  5. Good medical practice – professional standards – GMC (