Removing negative articles about a GP from Google searches

Protecting healthcare professionals: how online misinformation can impact reputations and what can be done about it.

Table of Contents

Case study about the delisting of articles from Google despite the articles relating to professional life

No adverse findings by the General Medical Council – a reputational challenge

Right to privacy and the UK GDPR to help remove newspaper articles from Google

Defamation or breach of GDPR

Is it possible to delist from Google newspaper articles which relate to your professional life

Success in the delisting of newspaper articles concerning one’s professional life from Google

The impact of a successful delisting request on our client’s professional and personal life

Lawyers thoughts on the case

Case study about the delisting of articles from Google despite the articles relating to professional life

Our client, a GP (General Practitioner) Partner at a Medical Practice in Northern England, encountered a critical situation that jeopardised both his professional reputation and career. In the year 2018, as the world grappled with COVID-19, he engaged with a non-profit organisation to distribute antibody testing kits, aimed at aiding healthcare workers concerned about their health and were required to test more often.

Following a prominent newspaper’s investigation which concluded that the GP had conducted unauthorised online sales of these kits and the publication of the article in the mainstream press and online, our GP client felt that his reputation had been tarnished unfairly. This negative publicity had profound consequences for our client, leading to the loss of two prestigious healthcare positions and an executive role within a charity.

The legal backdrop of this case is multifaceted, involving professional conduct in healthcare, the influence of media on personal reputation, and privacy rights under data protection laws. The Medical Act 1983 and cases such as Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee (1957) set the standards for professional conduct.

Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee was a significant case in English law as it established a key test for medical negligence. John Bolam, a patient at Friern Hospital, underwent electroconvulsive therapy and suffered injuries as he was not restrained or given muscle relaxants, and claimed that he was not adequately informed of the risks. Bolam sued the hospital for negligence.

The court ruled in favour of the hospital, establishing the "Bolam Test." This test states that a medical professional is not negligent if they act in accordance with a practice accepted as proper by a responsible body of medical peers, even if others differ in opinion. These standards were critical in assessing our client’s situation, especially given the GMC’s role in maintaining these standards.

No adverse findings by the General Medical Council – a reputational challenge

After our client was the subject of an intensive investigation by a prominent newspaper, which concluded that he had acted negligently in his professional conduct, the public scrutiny was both challenging and distressing for our client, casting a shadow over his reputation and professional integrity. However, it's crucial to highlight the subsequent inquiries carried out by both the National Health Service (NHS) and the General Medical Council (GMC), two of the highest authorities the UK's healthcare sector.

These investigations were thorough and conducted with the utmost rigour, examining all aspects of the accusations levelled against our client. The outcomes of these investigations are of paramount importance. Both the NHS and the GMC found no professional concerns regarding our client's conduct. These findings serve as a strong and clear vindication of our client's professional integrity and practice standards. It's essential to underscore the significance of the NHS and GMC's conclusions.

These bodies are renowned for their stringent standards and their commitment to upholding the highest levels of professional conduct and patient care in the healthcare sector. Their investigations are comprehensive, leaving no stone unturned. The fact that they found no professional concerns not only exonerates our client but also reaffirms his commitment to maintaining the highest standards of care and professionalism in his practice.

Right to privacy and the UK GDPR to help remove newspaper articles from Google

Another pivotal aspect of our case was the right to privacy under the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This was particularly relevant due to the publication of the articles concerning our GP client in the national press. GDPR, data protection laws and the common law of privacy allow individuals to request the deletion of their personal data from internet searches under specific conditions. This right is rooted in the idea that individuals should have control over their personal information and the ability to remove it, particularly when it's outdated, irrelevant, or no longer necessary.

Established in the EU in 2014, this principle was later integrated into the GDPR. It balances an individual's right to privacy with the public's right to access information, allowing requests for removal to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Despite the NHS and GMC conclusively finding no professional concerns, the relentless online circulation of disparaging articles continued to harm our client's reputation. This necessitated exploring avenues to have these articles removed from public view, employing strategies aligned with the principles of UK GDPR for the correction of misleading and potentially defamatory online content. This measure aimed to protect our client’s reputation and privacy.

The ongoing presence of these negative articles has deeply affected our client, inflicting damage not just on his professional standing but also on his personal well-being and mental health. The distress caused by these unfounded allegations, alongside the effort required to maintain his professional practice amidst this turmoil, has been significant. Seeking to have these articles removed from public sight is not merely a legal action; it's a critical step towards restoring his peace of mind and enabling him to concentrate on his work free from the burden of unwarranted scrutiny.

Defamation or breach of GDPR

Navigating the legal landscape to address damaging online content about a medical practitioner requires a strategic approach, particularly when choosing between allegations of defamation and breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Defamation, which involves proving that false statements have been published with the intent of causing harm to someone's reputation, can be a challenging path due to the stringent requirements for evidence and the need to demonstrate malice or negligence in the publication of those statements.

On the other hand, arguing a breach of GDPR presents a more viable proposition for having articles delisted from Google searches. The GDPR provides a framework for the protection of personal data within the EU, including the accuracy and currency of personal information. If it can be demonstrated that published data about a medical practitioner is inaccurate or outdated, this constitutes a direct violation of GDPR principles. The regulation mandates that individuals have the right to request the correction or deletion of personal data that is incorrect or no longer relevant. This approach offers several advantages.

First, the burden of proof is often more manageable, as the focus shifts to the accuracy and timeliness of the data, rather than the intent behind its publication.

Second, the GDPR includes specific provisions for the right to be forgotten, which directly supports the delisting of content from search engines when it infringes on privacy rights or fails to comply with data accuracy requirements. In essence, leveraging GDPR violations provides a more straightforward and effective legal strategy for medical professionals seeking to have detrimental content removed from online searches. It aligns with the broader objectives of data protection and privacy rights, offering a clear pathway to rectify issues of outdated or incorrect information being publicly accessible.

This approach not only aids in the protection of the individual's professional reputation but also underscores the importance of maintaining accurate and current data in the digital domain. While the articles published in the newspaper were borderline defamatory, they primarily offered a misleading interpretation of our client's actions, casting him in an unfavourably negative light. This portrayal not only skewed public perception but also risked unjustly undermining his professional reputation. On balance, initiating legal proceedings against the newspapers at this stage would have presented significant risks for our client. The complexities and uncertainties inherent in defamation litigation could potentially exacerbate the situation, not to mention the substantial financial and emotional resources required for such a legal battle.

Given these considerations, an alternative strategy would involve seeking to have links to the articles removed from search engines. This approach, while less confrontational than direct legal action, could effectively mitigate the articles' visibility and impact. By reducing public access to the misleading content, our client can take a proactive step towards safeguarding his reputation and privacy without the added risks of litigation. This method offers a pragmatic solution to address the immediate challenges posed by the online dissemination of these articles, providing our client with a means to rectify his public image in a more controlled and less adversarial manner.

Is it possible to delist newspaper articles which relate to your professional life from Google

Yes. It is possible to delist from Google newspaper articles which relate to your professional life. The primary challenge in seeking the removal of newspaper articles from Google searches, particularly those concerning a general practitioner (GP) and relating to his professional life, lies in the general stance of search engines. Typically, requests to delist links to articles that pertain to one's professional activities are unlikely to be granted by search engines. This is because such content is often considered of public interest and therefore deemed relevant and necessary for public access.

However, it's crucial to recognise that search engines also have an obligation to assess each delisting request based on its individual merits and facts, ensuring that automated decision-making processes do not unjustly override the nuances of each case. This principle opens a window of opportunity for those affected by misleading or harmful professional coverage in the press. In situations where offending news articles significantly damage an individual's professional reputation, the intervention of an expert solicitor becomes indispensable. A solicitor specialising in this area can navigate the complex legal and procedural landscape, presenting a compelling case to search engines that underscores the specific harm caused by the articles in question.

This expertise is critical because, in the absence of a well-argued request, search engines are almost certain to decline the application, especially when it involves professional life. Therefore, engaging an expert solicitor is not merely advisable but often necessary to effectively argue the case for delisting, taking into account the specific circumstances and detrimental impact of the articles. This professional guidance ensures that the request is not dismissed out of hand and that a thorough, fair examination of the facts is conducted, potentially leading to a favourable outcome for the individual concerned.

Success in the delisting of newspaper articles concerning one’s professional life from Google

Our law firm embarked on a meticulous and comprehensive process to compile a GDPR Notice, aimed at addressing the issue of offending newspaper articles that were significantly impacting our client's professional reputation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides a legal framework that demands the protection of individuals' personal data and privacy within the European Union and the broader European Economic Area. It also extends to the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas.

Leveraging this framework, we sought to challenge the continued listing of these articles by Google, which were misleading and cast our client in an unjustly negative light. The GDPR Notice was drafted with careful attention to detail, outlining the specific ways in which the articles infringed upon our client's rights to privacy and data protection under the GDPR. It argued that the continued accessibility of these articles via Google's search engine constituted an ongoing harm to our client's professional reputation and privacy, which outweighed any public interest in their availability.

After submitting the GDPR Notice to Google, the process involved several rounds of communication. These communications were marked by detailed exchanges, where we provided further clarifications, additional evidence, and robust responses to Google's queries and concerns. Recognising the complexity and potential precedent-setting nature of our request, we escalated the matter twice within Google's legal department, ensuring that the case was reviewed at higher levels for a thorough and fair assessment. Our persistence and the strength of our legal argument eventually led to a successful outcome.

Despite the initial challenges and the articles' relevance to our client's professional life, Google agreed to delist the offending articles. This decision by Google underscored the importance of presenting a well-founded legal argument that carefully balances the right to privacy against the public interest in access to information. This outcome represents a significant victory for our client and demonstrates our law firm's expertise in navigating complex digital privacy issues and our commitment to defending our clients' rights in the digital realm.

The impact of a successful delisting request on our client’s professional and personal life

The successful removal of the URLs by the search engines marked a significant victory for our client, showcasing the effectiveness of meticulously developed legal strategies within the spheres of privacy and reputation management. This achievement transcended the mere deletion of search result links; it symbolized a comprehensive affirmation of our client's privacy rights and the reinstatement of his professional integrity. The cornerstone of our success lay in the adept application of data protection laws, particularly leveraging the right to be forgotten. This legal principle became instrumental in securing the outcome we sought. Our law firm's dedication to the cause went beyond traditional legal boundaries, extending into the digital domain, where we conducted vigilant and ongoing surveillance of search engine results to ensure the permanence of the content's removal.

This persistent vigilance was pivotal in assuring our client that the disparaging content would not re-emerge, thereby facilitating a path forward from the adversities that had marred his professional journey. Following this victory, our client experienced a transformative change in his life. Liberated from the shadow of defamatory content, he was able to reclaim his professional standing and engage with his work and the wider community from a position of renewed confidence and respect.

The restoration of his reputation has not only revitalized his career prospects but has also significantly improved his mental and emotional well-being. With the burden of these allegations lifted, our client now looks to the future with optimism, focused on advancing his career and contributing positively to his field, unencumbered by the past challenges that once threatened to define his professional legacy.

Lawyers thoughts on the case

The remarkable transformation in our client's life following our unwavering commitment and the positive outcome achieved is nothing short of fantastic. It's a testament to the client's resilience and determination; despite being advised that success was unlikely, he chose to embark on this journey, ultimately leading to a significant change in his life. This case powerfully illustrates the critical role of legal intervention in defending an individual's professional reputation and privacy. Our victory in this matter shines a light on the effective use of defamation laws and professional conduct regulations, alongside the 'Right to Be Forgotten,' to tackle complex challenges.

The success we achieved highlights the necessity for a deep and nuanced comprehension of these legal domains and their practical application in shielding individuals from unjust digital scrutiny and reputational damage. The impact of our work extended beyond the immediate benefits to our client, establishing a benchmark for future cases of a similar nature. It underscores the dynamic nature of legal practice in an era marked by rapid technological progress and the pervasive influence of media. Witnessing our client's life flourish post-intervention is a powerful affirmation of our dedication and the profound effect of determined legal advocacy in restoring dignity and opening new possibilities for those we serve.