Despite the unprecedented pressure on the NHS arising from COVID-19, individuals are attending hospital sites to film or photograph empty corridors and post images online with allegations that the extreme pressure on the NHS is exaggerated or false. The actions of these “Covid deniers” misleads the public at a time where it is crucial people comply with public health rules and damages morale amongst NHS workers when it is important that they have full public support.

There are a number of immediate steps that NHS organisations can take to tackle this sort of conduct:

  1. Individuals who attend hospital premises do so on the basis of an implied licence. If an individual is not on hospital premises for medical treatment or another legitimate purpose, an NHS Trust can withdraw that individual’s licence and, thereafter, they will be trespassing on hospital premises. Written notice should be provided to the individual to make clear that their licence is withdrawn and they will be guilty of trespass unless they are in need of medical assistance.
  2. Individuals who are on Trust premises and who are asked to leave because they are causing a nuisance or disturbance (and are not there for the purpose of obtaining medical advice, treatment or care) may be committing an offence under section 119 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. NHS Security staff can take steps to remove the individual from the premises – with the assistance of the police if necessary – under section 120 of the 2008 Act. Guidance on these provisions can be found here.
  3. Social media platforms have “takedown” mechanisms that can be used to remove false content, including straightforward reporting functions that can be used. Major social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have indicated they are taking stricter approaches with false information about COVID-19. If this doesn’t work, formal correspondence to the social media platform can be sent.
  4. Finally, where a NHS organisation becomes aware of a planned protest, it may be able to seek an urgent injunction preventing that protest from going ahead. If a protest does go ahead, then a referral should be made to the police who can take action where threatening or abusive behaviour takes place, or prevent such behaviour from occurring. They can also advise and support on other steps, like relocating a protest away from critical areas or staff.

How Capsticks can help

Our team is here to listen, support and advise NHS organisations on any issues they encounter during this extremely difficult time. If you would like to talk to us about any of the points covered in this insight, please contact John Tippett-Cooper, James Burt or Jane Barker.