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Can you ask a mentor or a patient's relative to be your friend on Facebook?'

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Has someone written on your wall? Have you just been poked? Perhaps you’ve been left a stack of unwanted presents? Those in the know will realise that I’m not talking about vandals or a deluge of gifts from a benevolent old aunt. I am talking about Facebook.

There are positive aspects to Facebook. It helps to communicate messages to a large audience. However, the site does have
its problems.

In the UK, police officers are facing disciplinary action for ‘inappropriate’ posts supporting a colleague under investigation for a road traffic accident that resulted in the death of a pedestrian. A trainee surgeon voiced personal grievances against senior colleagues and found himself suspended from duty. And a nurse in Northampton faces disciplinary action for posting a topless picture of herself in her Facebook profile. I confess to have seen a former colleague who at the click of a mouse appears – apart from strategically placed hands – completely starkers.

I don’t know if psychologists have designed any tests around our relationship with keyboards but people do seem to disclose an awful lot of private information to a very public audience.

It is difficult to keep up with the pace of technological change. But, thanks to the more IT-literate members of my team of student practice facilitators, I’ve been alerted to the problems with online social networking sites such as Facebook.

As student practice facilitators, we’ve had to develop guidelines for pre and post-registration students. For example, if you’re being mentored, can you ask a mentor to be your ‘friend’ on Facebook? Well – no.

Nurses must realise that inappropriate posts will give the NMC grounds to revoke their pin numbers. Whether you are a student or a registered nurse, you cannot be unprofessional online. That includes asking a patient’s relative to be your online friend.

Thankfully, the NMC is soon to publish guidelines on online protocol.

I suspect we could all recall emails or posts we wish we’d never sent. So before you log on to MySpace – check out the NMC.

Brian Belle-Fortune is a student practice facilitator at Great Ormond Street Hospital

Want to read more of Brian Belle-Fortune’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • I think we have to be really careful here, and I'm not talking about what we put up on facebook.

    The NMC is already insiduously creeping into our private lives more and more, and more and more proffessionals, police, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. are being disciplined or sacked for what they do in their own private lives.

    But where do we draw the line? Are we supposed to give up all rights to a private life once we get our pins? Do we sign over our rights and freedoms when we get that diploma or degree?

    Everyone has the right to a private life. We have the right to go out and enjoy ourselves. We have the right to let our hair down. If some people choose to display that on facebook or whatever social site they choose, or take some photos and show them to friends the old fashioned way, then who are the NMC or anyone else to deem that innapropriate?

    I can understand if a hypothetical nurse posted pictures of getting drunk in uniform and dancing on a patients bed (ok, extreme example) but on a normal night out, what 'harm or disrepute' are they bringing to the proffession?

    Where is the line drawn?

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  • What about Health Care Support Workers? Are they inclued in the NMC guidlines on how to use Facebook safely?

    As although their salary is claimed to "respresent their lack of professional accountability" in comparison to registered nurses, there are disciplinary procedings taken against HCA's for their use of facebook as well as qualified nurses. I know of at least one such case within my own trust.

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  • I totally agree there is only so much of a private life we are actually allowed to live!

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