The NHS operate a zero tolerance policy with regard to violence and abuse and the practice has the right to remove violent patients from the list with immediate effect in order to safeguard practice staff, patients and other persons. Violence in this context includes actual or threatened physical violence or verbal abuse which leads to fear for a person’s safety. In this situation we will notify the patient in writing of their removal from the list and record in the patient’s medical records the fact of the removal and the circumstances leading to it.
The practice takes any bullying/threatening or undermining remarks about staff on Social Media very seriously and this will not be tolerated, any such action may result in reporting the patient to the police in regard to sections 2, 2A, 4 or 4A Protection from Harassment Act 1997, or offences under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and Communications Act 2003. Those accused of an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and Communications Act 2003 are unlikely to be familiar with the legal system and unaware that what may have been thought of as an innocent message on social media can have life-changing consequences, including imprisonment.
Potential Offences Under The Malicious Communications Act 1988
Under this area of law, communication is defined as any person who sends a letter, electronic communication or article of any description to another person which conveys the following:
• A message that is indecent or grossly offensive
• A threat
• Information that is false and is known or believed to be false by the sender
This also includes any article or electronic communication that is, in whole or part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature.
The above only applies if the sender’s purpose, or one of their purposes, was to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. The mental state of the sender is a key element of the offence and the prosecution must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. In other words, they must make the court or jury sure that a person intended, or one of their intentions was, to cause distress or anxiety.
A person found guilty could face a prison term not exceeding two years on indictment or up to 12-month custody at the Magistrates’ Court.
Potential Offences Under The Communications Act 2003
Offences that fall under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 include the following:
• A person sending any public electronic communications network a message or other content that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character
• A person causes any such message or content to be sent A person can also be found guilty of an offence under the Communications Act if they intend to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another by:
• Sending a message that is known to be false via a public electronic communications network;
• Causing such a message to be sent; or
• Persistently making use of a public electronic communications network
• Similar to offences under the Malicious Communications Act, one offence under the Communication Act 2003 requires the content of a message to be ‘grossly offensive’, ‘indecent’, ‘obscene’ or of a ‘menacing character’. However, the mental element of the offence is broader as it includes circumstances where a person should have awareness or recognition that sending the message may create insult or a risk of insult to the person to whom the message relates.
In addition, an offence will be committed under section 127(2) of the Act where a person had specific intent to cause annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety with a message that is false.