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.