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NMC issues Facebook and Twitter warning


Nurses who use social networking websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, have been warned they could be struck off the nursing register if their usage is deemed inappropriate by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The regulator has confirmed that “a number” of nurses are currently being investigated for their activity on such websites and, as a result, it launched guidance specifically on social networking this week.

The guidance recommends that nurses ensure they use privacy settings when visiting such sites, and that they do not post anything they would not want others to see. In a few previous cases, the NMC said nurses had used such sites to pursue inappropriate relationships with service users, or posted photographs that breach patient confidentiality.

A spokesman for the regulator told Nursing Times: “The last thing we would want is a mass exodus from using these sites. They are useful for services and for nurses, but nurses need to continue to uphold the NMC code online as they do face to face.”

In an NMC statement on the guidance, the regulator’s chief executive Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “The NMC is committed to public protection and ensuring nurses and midwives make the welfare of those in their care their first priority at all times.

“I would advise nurses and midwives to exercise caution when using social networking sites. They could risk their registration if they share sensitive information, make inappropriate comments, or befriend patients online.”

The NMC advice on social networking sites includes the following suggestions:

  • Never put confidential or sensitive information on social networking sites, especially if it identifies patients.
  • Whether or not you identify your work role online, be aware that all your activity online can reflect on your professional life.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from patients, or use social networks to build or pursue relationships with patients or clients, even if they are no longer in your care.
  • Do not post pictures that have patients in them.
  • Keep personal and professional social networking as separate as possible.
  • Consider everything you post as public, even in ‘private’ Facebook discussions.
  • Social networking sites should not be used for whistle-blowing or raising concerns – instead follow the NMC’s guidance on raising and escalating concerns.
  • Don’t discuss work online, and especially avoid talking about patients or colleagues.
  • Don’t simply accept the preset privacy and sharing settings on Facebook, think carefully about what you want to share with different kinds of friends.
  • Remember you can take action if you find you are the target of abuse; there are options available for blocking people from interacting with you.

Readers' comments (106)

  • there does not seem to be any reason to mix professional life and social life. If this is respected there should be no difficulties and any breach should be investigated by employers and the NMC.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Jul-2011 11:13 pm

    You admit that some of the rules within the "... little thing called THE CODE OF CONDUCT...." , "..MAY BE inappropriate and outdated now..".
    Well in 1998, the UK incorporated the European Convention, and the guarantee of freedom of expression it contains in Article 10, into its domestic law under the Human Rights Act.
    Dangerous statements like, " whether or not you agree with what is written in the code is irrelevant, it is up to each member of the nursing profession to uphold and abide by these rules if you want to keep your job,...." reek of sinister undertones. Really? You want everyone to uphold a code of conduct that, by your own admission might be outdated and inappropriate? Well you can follow it robot-fashion, (whilst creating an aura of mistrust) if you like. However, there is a little thing called FREEDOM OF SPEECH enshrined in law. Keep it in mind. That's not too much to ask, is it?

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  • There is a public consensus of opinion, I think, about how all members of professions would be expected to behave socially and professionally. Why does this not include the nursing profession? Mike. As both a nurse and
    a patient I would expect this. I do not think it is demeaning or inhuman to expect standards of conduct from nurses on public social chat sites and hope that behaviour that falls below this is monitored and yes reported! I think this is what is part & parcel of belonging to a profession bound by a code of conduct. No problem .

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  • I think the point is being missed here. No one has posted in support of those who act in breach of patient confidentiality or dignity. And no one is advocating that we act in an unprofessional manner.

    What some of us are warning about is just who is 'monitoring' and standing in judgement regarding our 'behaviour' on social networking sites? If it is the ineffectual NMC, then that is very worrying.

    It is apparently "No problem" to some and good luck to them. I wonder how they'll feel when that perfectly innocent comment or photograph posted on their FB wall is deemed inappropriate by some 'monitor'....."and yes reported"!

    One commenter even admits that "...Some of the code MAY BE inappropriate and outdated now,...." and yet states, " whether or not you agree with what is written in the code is irrelevant, it is up to each member of the nursing profession to uphold and abide by these rules if you want to keep your job,...". Astonishing!!!!! Are we happy throw free speech out of the window and become a profession of sheep? Well I'm bloody not!!

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  • Anonymous | 10-Jul-2011 10:05 pm you have completely missed the point here. Yes as a professional there are standards of behaviour IN WORK that we adhere to, there are also certain acts outside of it, breaking certain laws, breaching confidentiality etc, that we can and should be held to account on. HOWEVER, what right does ANY professional body have to effectively snoop on our PRIVATE lives, what right does any professional body have to deem what is and what isn't acceptable OUTSIDE of their remit of work (again with the exceptions stated above). I mean, where does it end? Who holds those regulators to account when they can effectively change the goal posts at any time? Are we not allowed a right to a private life? No, sorry, that picture you took on a drunken night out is 'bringing the profession into disrepute'. Are we not entitled to free thought or opinion? No, those opinions don't agree with the party line, off the register you go. Who the hell do these people think they are? Oops, I used a naughty word, that isn't upholding my responsibility to effective communication in an understanding manner, hey I'm now struck off!

    Yes we uphold our code of conduct and professionalism AT WORK, but then when we take the uniform off, we have a private life too. And NOONE, not even the witchfinder generals at the NMC, has the right to dictate what we say, think or do within that private life.

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  • The NMC is lazy and corrupt. Don't forget that it also got ripped apart in a verbal statement in the House of Commons about its culture of institutional bullying.

    I know from experience that many members of the NMC are more political than practical and some cases have been decided on the basis of politics rather than actual facts, and just in case anyone needs anymore indication of the occassional unjustness of their activities did you know that there is no appeal against the findings of a fitness to practice panel except via the High (now Supreme) Court on matters of procedural Law?

    The NMC is living in a glass house, and it has now started throwing stones.

    Lets have a list of every member of the NMC's staff published (you know - just like they do with RN/RMs) and lets see how they conduct themselves on social media.

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  • NMC needs more transparency on its activities, finances and staff.

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  • But surely there are other agencies that scan these chat sites too. Members of the public and former patients for instance, Journalists looking for emerging scandals!!.
    It is not just the much maligned NMC who consider they have a duty of care to report unacceptable revelations about the behaviour of public officials such as nurses.
    Unfortunately people will always be on the lookout to chastise and report people in responsible jobs. Good governance is surely about setting boundaries too. There should be agreement about what is acceptable conduct and which of course must be subject to public scrutiny too. Even if the NMC is replaced, a new body will still have a regulatory role. That has to be accepted or you end up being governed by civil servants via Ministers in the department of health. Or worse still no regulatory powers and very dodgy characters running around and calling themselves 'nurses'. No one will
    allow that to happen!.

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  • I can't believe that so called professionals can get so upset by being asked to be careful and make sure that they do not use social media sites inappropriately.
    I also can't believe that you are all stupid enough not to have realised that these sites are monitored by many different people e.g. potential employers, managers, police, governing bodies, criminals etc. No one is suggesting that you shouldn't have a life out of work but you should also get some common sense and be careful what you coose to share with all and sundry. Considering that there are quite a few nurses that use these sites inappropriately I am sure that our patients are pleased that the NMC are monitoring the sites and disciplining nurses.

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  • The NMC is our governing body.

    If we want to be seen as professionals then that is how we should behave at all times.

    If nurses resort to using these social networking sites and breach professional behaviour, then the NMC has every right to seek out the culprit and take action.

    I dont see it as big brother, I see it as attempting to maintain professional behaviour.

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