The UK’s leading health organisations are demanding an end to the abuse endured by healthcare workers during the pandemic, and are calling on the public to join them.
Their stance was triggered by the trolling suffered by Royal College of Midwives (RCM) chief executive Gill Walton following her work to convince pregnant women to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
She faced a torrent of abuse online, as did many other leading medics working to boost uptake of the jab among younger age groups.
A selection of tweets screenshotted by the RCM compared Ms Walton and other nurses to serial killer Myra Hindley and the Nazis.
Elsewhere, president of the Doctors’ Association UK and Good Morning Britain regular Dr Samantha Batt-Rawdon said she had also had to block dozens of accounts.
She tweeted: “I am really sorry but I’ve had to start blocking people. @Twitter should be a safe space for doctors to speak up about the importance of vaccination but all we have got back is a wall of abuse.
“Frankly this is the last thing any of us need right now.”
A letter about standing up to abuse penned by the RCM and signed by organisations including Unison, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the NHS Confederation, the British Medical Association, and the Royal College of Nursing is due to be published in The Times on Wednesday.
The abusive tweets directed at Ms Walton led to a counter-campaign on social media under the hashtag #IStandWithGill.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was among those condemning the actions of Covid-19 sceptics and the anti-vaxx movement.
He posted: “I am appalled to see the abuse directed at @GillWaltonRCM and her colleagues from @MidwivesRCM.
“Real-world data shows the #Covid-19 vaccine is safe – we stand with our midwives who are sharing this vital guidance with the public.”
Ms Walton said: “Over the past 16 months, health and care workers have been working under incredible stress, with increased demands and less staff because of the pandemic, yet still they have strived to provide the best possible care.
“I know the vast majority of the public are incredibly grateful for that dedication and commitment.
“However, too many health and care workers have faced abuse from a small but vocal minority, from Covid deniers to anti-vaxxers.”
She continued: “Our midwives, doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, everyone working for the NHS, has the right to safety and respect in the workplace.
“To those who abuse us for simply making polite requests to wear masks or to maintain social distance in hospitals or GP practices, to those who deny the existence of the pandemic or the science of vaccination, to those who issue death threats or incite violence against us, we say enough is enough.”
Chief nursing officer for England Ruth May said: “We will not tolerate abuse or violence towards our colleagues.”
She added: “Despite the despicable actions of a minority, the overarching support we have seen from the wider public has helped carry us through the pandemic and we are proud to have helped millions of patients over the last year.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The pandemic is real, and the virus can kill.
“Anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers are entitled to their opinions. But they must be prevented from hounding dedicated NHS staff, who must be protected so they can do their jobs in peace.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “We now need to be more united than ever and show our solidarity by calling out the aggressive and unreasonable behaviour of a small minority.”
Last week, the Metropolitan Police confirmed they were probing comments made by ex-nurse and prominent anti-vaxxer Kate Shemirani to see if she broke hate speech laws.
At a rally in Trafalgar Square, she called on her followers to send her the details of doctors and nurses battling the pandemic, and compared them to the war criminals convicted at the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War.