Words credit: Martin Beckford
Nurses and midwives could be struck off if they befriend patients on Facebook or discuss their work online, the sector’s regulator has warned.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has told health workers not to put sensitive information or photographs relating to their jobs on social networking websites, and to keep their professional and personal lives separate on the internet.
It has issued advice on the use of popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter as it is “increasingly receiving enquiries about online conduct”, which has already led to some staff being investigated and struck off.
Prof Dickon Weir-Hughes, chief executive of the NMC, 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 – which holds disciplinary hearings into alleged misconduct – estimates that 355,000 of its 660,000 registered nurses and midwives use Facebook. Twitter is also popular with NHS workers as it allows them to discuss health reforms and share news of medical developments with people they do not know personally.
The regulator says it treats “online incidents” as seriously as those that take place “in the real world”, and that nurses should consider everything they post online as public even if it is in the form of a private Facebook discussion.
Its new advice states that confidential information should never be placed on social networking websites, particularly if it identifies patients or includes photos of them.
The NMC says that nurses should decline friend requests from patients or clients on Facebook, even if they are no longer under their care, but should also avoid discussing work or colleagues.
It recommends that nurses keep their personal and professional social networking identities separate, and tells them they should not use websites for whistle-blowing.
It comes after a community psychiatric nurse, Timothy Hyde, was struck off for “conducting an inappropriate relationship with a former patient”. He had contacted the woman on Facebook two weeks after meeting her in the course of his work, but then “blocked” contact with her after they had a sexual relationship.
In America, a nursing student was expelled after she posted a photo on Facebook of herself with a human placenta.