Climate ActivismUK doctors Protested for Climate, face risk of removal from register

UK doctors Protested for Climate, face risk of removal from register

UK: Following her husband’s passing in 2019, Birmingham-based general practitioner Dr Sarah Benn has extremely worried about the climate catastrophe. She and her spouse motivated to take further action in 2019 by the emergence of the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion. Over the following few years, Benn’s involvement in direct action increased; in protest of the government’s inaction on climate change, she even glued her hand to the door of the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

Benn will now have to appear before a professional tribunal run by the General Medical Council’s (GMC) disciplinary branch, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), to find out if she can continue to practice medicine. Her case is the first to heard in April, and she is one of three general practitioners who could be fired this year for their advocacy related to climate change.

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Physicians must notify the GMC if they face criminal charges or found guilty of a crime. Benn went above and beyond, reporting each arrest to her local NHS employer and the professional body. The GMC launched an investigation following her first four criminal convictions, which included two counts of obstructing a highway, one count of halting someone who was engaging in legitimate activity, and one count of operating a drone in a restricted area. This concluded with a letter advising Benn to “reflect on her actions and to remain mindful in the future of her professional obligations,” even though she had granted conditional discharges.

Benn not referred for a full tribunal until after she found guilty of contempt of court for violating a civil injunction at the Kingsbury oil port in Warwickshire as a part of the Just Stop Oil campaign. For this action, Benn imprisoned for a total of thirty-one days.

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Bristol general practitioner Dr Patrick Hart has a history of convictions for climate action, including one that resulted in a suspended prison sentence. He informed he would be appearing before a tribunal in November after turning down a formal warning from the GMC.

According to the GMC, there nothing in the standards we set that stops doctors from using their right to advocate for causes or influence the government, as it explicitly stated in its guidelines. However, an MPTS referral required if a doctor found guilty of a crime and sentenced to prison.

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Benn currently retired and not working as a general practitioner. She says that doctors should viewed as “trusted messengers” and that the GMC should acknowledge the significance of her activities. She is concerned about the existential crisis’s effects on public health, her children’s future, and the millions of people who are currently malnourished, uprooted, and suffering because of the continuous exploitation and combustion of fossil fuels.

Benn and Hart are still in the midst of criminal trials wherein they risk losing both their professional license to practice and their freedom. Their capacity to practice medicine has improved as a result of activism since it has allowed them to interact with patients in a compassionate and multigenerational manner.

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