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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)

  • I suppose professional conduct codes are like the Geneva Convention you might not like some of the people who create the rules for all to follow . But all participant countries who sign up to it have agreed that regulations are in place and boundaries set for the protection of communities in war time (& famine).
    You can't suddenly decide that areas that you disagree with will be ignored and others accepted. Just won't work like that.

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  • As someone currently under investigation by the NMC for "inappropriate" comments on Facebook I would first like to say that my privacy profile was set to friends only meaning my comments were not in the public domain, the only reason the NMC became aware of them was through malicious behaviour from my, now ex, employers. I did not breach any patient confidentiality but merely expressed my own opinion regarding some of my colleagues and general client group. I did mention one specific case which was in the local press so fail to see how confidentiality was breached. It has made me fearful of expressing myself on-line to my friends, many of whom live all over the country and Facebook is the only way we keep in touch. I wonder how many people have gone home after a difficult and stressful day at work and told their nearest and dearest about what happened with a few choice words for good measure. Why should this be any different from postings made on a private profile?

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  • Anonymous | 15-Jul-2011 11:15 pm:
    I find your post about this report incredibly interesting. It would seem that the NMC are entirely subject to the dynamics that we are all subject to and which are being reported to be obstructing good quality decisions, care and teamwork in healthcare. No wonder they don't know how to respond to these calls and pleas for help if they haven't yet figured out how to resolve the same issues in-house.
    Mike your point about being judged outside of work I would clarify that with; it depends what you are doing outside work. If your legal/professional responsibility and accountability are compromised by your actions then you are liable, in or out of work. The question of who is deciding the boundaries of that I agree, to some extent, given the report mentioned above. The question of being actively monitored is a separate one again, which if true is particularly worrying, and I suspect a potential legal issue of intrusion.

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  • Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 12:16 pm I absolutely sympathise with your situation, so many of these 'investigations' are brought about through malicious acts by 'colleagues' rather than a clear need to investigate. I personally know of a similar tale of two Nurses who posted a complaint about a stressful day to each other, a private conversation, with privacy settings on, but that conversation STILL made it to the Manager through the report of a 'friend' on site, who then passed it to the NMC, who then investigated these Nurses under suspension, very, very unfair.

    Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 12:22 pm I agree, that is why I said as long as no laws or specific confidentiality rules etc are being broken. Being arrested for say supplying drugs is clearly a case for the NMC to investigate kicking someone off the register, posting a patients personal details and details of their condition and treatment online for all to see is a clear violation of confidentiality. But the line is clearly being broken where our actions are being scrutinised and investigated OUTSIDE of these clear violations. Posted pictures of drunken nights out can 'bring the profession into disrepute'; 'private' conversations online (with privacy settings) as mentioned above are being investigated, etc etc etc. There ARE no lines here, because the NMC has carte blanche to move the goalposts and interpret things any way they see fit. There is a very fine line that the NMC are crossing here, and as you say, could potentially be a legal issue of intrusion or invasion of privacy.

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  • I find it somewhat staggering that anyone can believe that social networking sites like facebook can be private - big brother is watching you and it isn't the NMC - indeed going by some of the posts it may even be so called friends.

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  • If it's at all possible I actually agree with all of the opposing views here! What I do know as a student learning disability nurse is that seeing one of my peers writing things like 'no wonder nobody likes old people, had a right old c**t sat next to me on the bus taking absolute sh*t with his smelly breath making me feel sick' on there FB status absolutely sickening. It makes me wonder about the future of the profession I've worked damn hard to get into if this girl is about to sign the register. I wonder what the general public would think.

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  • Interestingly enough. Today I received an email from Nursing Times (as I'm sure many others have) asking me to complete a survey re: Nurses using Social Media. Glancing over the survey, the questions about how you use the social media are quite intrusive, including one which asks whether or not you are aware of a colleague using the a social networking site inappropriately. Think I'll give that survey a big body swerve.

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  • Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 9:42 pm

    Not a bad idea, don't think I'll be doing that one myself either!

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  • It would appear that both examples given by:
    Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 12:16 pm and
    mike | 18-Jul-2011 2:41 pm

    were presuming that there "friends" agreed with their comments. Obviously they didn't and felt that the content of their posts were inappropriate and needed passing on to either their manager or the NMC.
    If peolple are stupid enough to make derogatory comments about their colleagues or patients on line then they deserve to be reported.
    There are mechanisms in place if you need to moan about or discuss problems at work e.g. grievance procedure or clinical supervision. Facebook walls are not appropriate places for this.

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  • Anonymous | 19-Jul-2011 1:47 pm

    Hello Big Brother. Obviously, you are happy with malicious intent being behind reporting people to the NMC. Wouldn't that be worth investigating?

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