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NMC issues Facebook and Twitter warning

  • 106 Comments

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.
  • 106 Comments

Readers' comments (106)

  • The NMC seems alone in issuing these guidelines as the GMC doesn't appear to have issued a similar set of guidelines for physicians and neither has the General Teaching Council.
    In fact the General Teaching Council goes out of its way to emphasise that it is not there to interfere in teachers' private lives, it also indicates that its code of conduct is compliant with the Human Rights Act neither of which are mentioned by the NMC ( see
    http://www.gtce.org.uk/teachers/thecode/fulltext/intro
    http://www.gtce.org.uk/teachers/thecode/outside_class)

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  • susan | 12-Jul-2011 11:12 am

    "Such allegations are serious and this is not the forum to make them!."


    We still have the right to free speech in this country, and this is absolutely the right place to discuss the NMC and it's role...whatever side of the argument you fall on. What next? Gagging Orders?

    I make sure that I abide by the NMC Code of Conduct. What I and others here do not trust is the NMCs ability to make some of these judgements. There is plenty of evidence to prove that the NMCs rulings are not always appropriate, or indeed legal. (and have been successfully overturned in courts of law). I am all for a regulatory body that effectively regulates the Nursing Profession. Not to have one would be dangerous for our patients and ourselves. But I want one that is transparent and trustworthy. That is not the NMC in its current form. Get something that works, and then our patients will be better protected.

    Lastly, what I do not understand, is why there are those who seem to take the attitude that criticism of the NMC equates to running amock on social networks with the confidential patient details! It is a lazy argument and erroneous. In fact, there are many who are obviously unaware about the role and purpose of the NMC and yet jump blindly to its defence. We are allowed to criticise and challenge those 'in authority'. It is the sign of a healthy society.

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  • susan | 12-Jul-2011 11:12 am

    ".....a profession that has thus far with stood the test of time......"

    Not so much. More accurately Nursing could be described as a profession which has lain down throughout its existence, allowing successive governments to walk all over it, keeping it the lowest paid and most undervalued profession, with the smallest voice. Oh yeah, we're just brilliant, aren't we?
    Disagreeing with the NMC doesn't mean that we shouldn't be Nurses. Your attitude is precisely what has landed us in the above position.

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  • Presumably the public have a say in how care is provided in this country and have a say in the conduct of it's professions too.
    It is precisely because of the lack of robust oversite by an effective regulatory body in the journalist profession that resulted in serious infringements of human rights and a very slack approach to professional conduct. Journalism is now required to rethink it's role in regaining public trust.

    I do not know individual members of the NMC and therefore find it puzzling that so much can be so wrong with it all of a sudden!! I know that they review and ioften overturn their own decisions. They are human beings in an imperfect world .We as nurses have to work with that as best we can. What is certain is that a standard of conduct is not 'laying down under oppressive rules ' but the minimum expected of people who we entrust with our care. I do not want colleagues or nursing staff discussing personal details on an open web site and it would be naive to think that some of us aren't capable of that because we surely are. I have a right to expect that to be kept private and for a professional watchdog to have oversite of possible infringements of the regulations.If
    this is a problem for some staff who use the the social chat sites, then it is a small price to pay for the greater good and protection of the public (who include nurses )

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  • most nursing and other professional organisations around the world have very similar professional codes of conduct, as does the ICN and the EU. those who are not content with these should put forward their proposals to the relevant bodies and see what changes can be brought about.

    Wider society, of which these form a very small part, also has its own written and unwritten ethical codes, rules, regulations, laws and constitution which citizens are expected to adhere to. there has to be a balance of with some degree of control to protect everybody without much intrusion into the private lives of individuals. many citizens, but unfortunately by no means all respect these constraints in return for the many benefits, rights and privileges they enjoy. these rules, regs. and laws are all open to amendment in a democratic society, but without them their would be anarchy, total collapse of the society or organisation and resultant chaos as everybody would wish to do things their own way.

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  • susan | 13-Jul-2011 10:44 am

    You and others keep making the same mistake! You persist in the mindset that those who critcise and disagree methods of the NMC actually don't want a regulatory body!Quite the opposite is true. We want one that is truly effective!

    "Presumably the public have a say in how care is provided in this country and have a say in the conduct of it's professions too."

    Are you really serious? Of course the public DOESN'T have enough say. And yes, the lack of oversight by effective regulatory bodies has contributed to this latest disaster in journalism. So why would you defend an organisation that did precisely NOTHING in response to one of its registrants complaints about the abusive behaviour of registered nurses at Winterbourne Hospital?

    With a regulatory body that was robust and effective, the public would have more say and confidence in our profession, and we nurses would resultantly be better protected.

    We would serve our patients better by sweeping away this outdated, bloated animal, instead of pandering to its every edict without question like sheep.

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  • I guess we would also be needing a definition of 'the reputation of the profession' to have a clue as what we are expected to uphold. And in whose eyes is the definition held?

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  • Margaret Haywood was struck off by the NMC for her whistleblowing of the disgraceful care in a failing NHS hospital. In the NMC guidance included in the above article, it states:

    "Social networking sites should not be used for whistle-blowing or raising concerns – instead follow the NMC’s guidance on raising and escalating concerns."

    Interesting then that the RCN launched a successful campaign to have Margaret's registration reinstated and replaced with a one year caution. Among other online sites including Age Concern, the RCN used Facebook to raise concerns and host their petition.

    Are we to go after all those NMC registered nurses who exercised their right to register protest, just because it goes against NMC guidelines?

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  • It's interesting to see how other professions view what is deemed appropriate behaviour in private lives.
    Take a look on Youtube at 2 doctors called AMATEUR TRANSPLANTS singing Careless Surgeon. They have made DVD's using a similar style of songs. Could you imagine the fallout if 2 nurses singing that? The GMC haven't reacted.

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  • As a member of the public I entrust the nursing profession with some of my intimate details, and have certain expectations of them when I'm sick & vulnerable.
    One 'rogue' nurse who reveals that deliberately or in some cases inadvertently on a very public social chat page will affect the way I think about that profession as a whole.
    People take a lead from nurses and see them as teachers and protectors.Healthcare assistants also take a lead from RN's and view them as an important support and role model.
    Someone should guard these confidences. Any breach sullies us all and does bring a high value profession into disrepute.
    Some of the comments such as 'you just don't get it' insults the intelligence of other
    contributors to the debate. Those of us who feel that a regulatory body safe guards all our human rights(they do make mistakes
    sure) and dignity, 'get it' only too well.
    Bullying and intimidation is a serious problem in nursing and social chat pages used by nurses increases the likely hood of that becoming a bigger issue than it is at the moment.
    The public and other nurses need the assurance of a strong watchdog to represent us
    and our patients ethically and morally. That is my view and the view of quite a few others who have contributed to the discussion. Please don't demean that with unnecessary snide and unpleasant personal comments. Nurses are a diverse group of people and all have opinion about the direction our profession should take and what safe guards should be in place. I think that should be respected.

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