A statement from the Department of Health.
The April letter to QUB from Dr McBride is available on the Department's website. Names have been redacted out of respect for all those involved.
The letter is clearly about a specific issue of concern.
It can in no way be accurately represented as an attempt to stifle academic opinion.
A DoH spokesman said: The April letter was written after the Department was made aware of GP concerns about public comments by an academic. These related to what type of PPE to wear.
It was felt that the public comments had the potential to create concern and confusion among GPs during an already stressful period.
It is not unreasonable to raise concerns about public commentary. To depict this as some kind of assault on academic independence is frankly nonsensical. By the same token, writing to a newspaper paper about a specific inaccurate or unfair article is not an assault on the freedom of the press.
Any suggestion that the letter has caused any reluctance among academics to engage with the media is clearly untrue. Academics from QUB have – quite properly - engaged with the media on numerous occasions since April.
The Chief Medical Officer and the Department are completely supportive of the role played by academics, who have provided informative and instructive comment via the media during the course of the present pandemic.
Academics should be assured that their unfettered contributions to public understanding are welcome and valued. At no time has the Department or any of its officials sought to curb that discourse. Indeed the work undertaken by academics from both our outstanding universities is recognised as having played a major part in the ongoing advances in tackling the effects of Covid-19.
Notes to editors:
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