A mix of doctors, health professionals and patients held a protest and handed leaflets to attendees outside a meeting at the General Medical Council on Thursday.

On the same day, in Manchester, Dr Sarah Benn faced a Medical Practitioners Tribunal over her involvement in a peaceful climate protest. In 2022, she simply held up a sign displaying the words ‘Stop New Oil’ and very briefly blocking the access road outside the Kingsbury oil terminal in the Midlands. The US-based company Valero had obtained an injunction to ban any form of protest at the site, and as a result, Dr Benn was imprisoned for 32 days by the High Court.

Dr Sarah Benn – imprisoned for holding a sign in the wrong place – Photo: JustStopOil

More than 100 health professionals have been arrested in connection with peaceful climate protests in the last few years. Dr Benn, along with two others, have spent time in prison, and this automatically triggers the tribunal process.

On Thursday there were three demands.

First, doctors are asking the GMC to show leadership on climate action, by making clear the connections between the climate crisis and health. Staff arriving at the meeting saw a ‘moral injury unit’ and a series of placards showing the connections between climate and health, from air pollution and damp and mould, to antibiotic resistance and new contagious diseases – also extreme heat deaths, and PTSD and eco-anxiety. The call is for the GMC to be much more pro-active in advice to doctors and in lobbying those in power.

Second, internally, the GMC still has pension funds linked to fossil fuel and it banks with RBS, part of NatWest, which finances fossil fuel projects. Total divestment is needed.

Thirdly, they call for leniency towards doctors involved in non-violent protest action. The GMC’s Good Medical Practice Standards instructs doctors to “protect and promote the health of patients and the public”, and people like Dr Benn say that is exactly what they are doing, engaging their moral duty to take action in the health emergency of climate collapse.

The UK has enacted several new laws and legal rulings over the past few years, criminalising many forms of peaceful protest. This has come to the attention of a UN Special Rapporteur who has condemned the UK and expressed alarm at the crackdown on civil rights, including sanctions on doctors.

Later on Thursday, we heard that Dr Benn’ tribunal ruled that her ‘fitness to practice was impaired due to misconduct’. The sanctions against her as a result of this ruling will be handed down on Tuesday, and could potentially suspend her licence to practice.

The protesters on Thursday handed in letters and a petition and spoke with many of the visitors as well as passers-by.

More info at doctorsforxr.com  Add your voice to the public petition at Change.Org

NB This article and film was modified shortly after publishing to include the correction that Thursday was not the Annual General Meeting, but rather a full council meeting at the GMC.