Trying to prevent nurses and other staff from using Twitter and Facebook in NHS settings is “unworkable”, health service managers have been told.
Guidance to help trusts draw up “common sense” rules for staff on social media were published last week by the health service management organisation NHS Employers.
It said many trusts had previously imposed blanket bans on staff from accessing social media platforms via their IT networks. But this was now changing because smartphones allowed access to social media whenever and wherever staff wanted.
The guidance stated: “A policy trying to prevent any social media use seems unworkable given the changing way that staff and the public interact with social media.”
NHS Employers also noted that social media should be viewed in a positive light and not just as a potential threat to patient confidentiality, for example. It cautioned that not allowing staff to use social media could actually be bad for a trust.
“A policy of ‘no social media use at work’ could affect an individual’s level of engagement with the organisation if it separates them from professional contacts,” the guidelines stated. “Similarly, a policy of open access to social media could increase their feeling of membership of an organisation by allowing them a space in which to ask questions and discuss issues.”
It added: “Having contented, well-motivated staff will lead to a more positive social media identity. Trying to prevent staff from having social media accounts which link them to the organisation takes away this opportunity. Staff will in any event use personal social media accounts.”
The briefing also suggested that social media provided a way for staff to get themselves listened to.
“Staff must be able to speak up and suggest new ideas,” it said. “If they are not enabled to do this at work, social media offers them the chance to have their say.”
But the guidance cautioned that staff did not always understand the “shareable and public nature” of social media content.
“While few staff could be said to be maliciously using social media to break patient confidentiality, for example, there is a need to ensure your staff are aware of their responsibilities as an employee and a professional when using social media,” the briefing said.
It suggested the “same rules apply to the social media world as to the canteen, staff room or patient waiting area”.
The guidelines noted that four of the eight most high profile NHS users of Twitter were senior nurses or former nurses, including chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings, Department of Health director of nursing Viv Bennett and South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust chief executive Paula Vasco-Knight.