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Latest 22 June 2023

We’re supporting doctors fighting the climate crisis

Vuk Valcic / Alamy Stock Photo

The General Medical Council is investigating retired GP Diana Warner for campaigning against climate change. Good Law Project is supporting her as she argues doctors must take global heating seriously to protect their patients.

The Hippocratic Oath demands that doctors should do no harm, but the General Medical Council (GMC) has launched an investigation into a doctor who put herself on the line to protect her patients from the devastating effects of the climate crisis.

Since retiring as a GP in 2019, Dr Diana Warner has been working peacefully to stop global heating. She has lobbied the GMC, promoted citizens’ assemblies and taken direct action with groups including Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

Warner says that the challenges of pollution and the climate crisis are “the most important public health issues that we face”. “Doctors share a group responsibility in regard to combatting the existential threats caused by global heating and pollution,” she said.

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In 2021, Warner and other members of Insulate Britain repeatedly blocked the M25 as part of a campaign to tackle fuel poverty and reduce CO2 emissions, despite a High Court injunction. She admitted breaching the order twice and was sent to prison for periods of two months and 30 days.

When Warner came forward last year to tell the GMC she had been imprisoned, they opened an investigation. Since her retirement, Warner is no longer practising medicine, but if the GMC refers her case to a tribunal she could face suspension for her activism or even being struck off the register.

The threat of these sanctions could have a chilling effect on doctors’ ability to protect their patients through protest, so Good Law Project is supporting Warner in this case. The GMC doesn’t currently have a policy to guide disciplinary action when doctors follow their conscience – guidance from the Solicitors Regulation Authority says that solicitors convicted of an offence when their principles drive them to peaceful protest are “unlikely” to face “any regulatory action”.

The Good Law Project founder, Jo Maugham, said that Warner’s actions should be “celebrated by the GMC, not punished”.

“The GMC’s description of a doctor’s duties – the very first paragraph – says ‘you must show respect for human life’,” he said. “A doctor who ignores the catastrophe that is global heating, which this very week has killed people in Mexico and India, breaches that duty.”

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