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Over 1200 NHS staff have been disciplined for social media use

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3947 (Published 17 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3947
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

Since 2013 more than 1200 NHS staff have been disciplined for using social media or messaging apps, an investigation has found.

Of those who were disciplined at least 65 NHS staff members had lost their jobs, said the Times newspaper,1 which collected data from 194 NHS trusts in England through freedom of information requests.

It reported cases of doctors who had been disciplined for their social media use, including Christian Solomonides, an emergency care consultant who was suspended for two months in 2016 “after ranting on Twitter about ‘neurotic’ patients who were ‘crippling the NHS.’”

Overall, the investigation found that Yorkshire Ambulance Service had reported the most cases (62) of staff being disciplined for social media use since 2013. Three of those staff were dismissed, and one resigned. It also found 47 cases at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trusts and 37 at Manchester University Foundation Trust.

Figures obtained by The BMJ last year showed that the General Medical Council (GMC) closed 28 investigations related to doctors’ use of Facebook, Twitter, or WhatsApp from 1 January 2015 to 30 June 2017.2

In three cases doctors received a warning from the GMC. A further three cases were referred to the doctor’s employer, and two doctors had their registration suspended as the result of an investigation.

Commenting on the Times’s findings, Pallavi Bradshaw of the Medical Protection Society said that doctors should be aware that the ethical standards expected of them remain the same when communicating through social media.

“There is a false sense of security among doctors that by using private groups, ‘end to end’ encryption, or even pseudonyms, they will be protected from scrutiny,” she said. “We have seen an increasing number of cases where posts made by doctors have come to the attention of the GMC, employers, or even the police.

“Some have been investigated years after the messages were written, highlighting that they remain accessible indefinitely and can be shared without an individual’s knowledge.”

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