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NHS smacks down hundreds of staffers for dodgy use of social media, messaging apps

Disciplinary action for healthcare workers complaining about patients, colleagues

More than a thousand NHS staffers have been slapped down for their use of social media and apps since 2013, with some even posting about patients.

According to figures released under Freedom of Information laws, at least 65 workers in the UK's National Health Service have lost their jobs because of the incidents.

The Times reported more than 1,200 employees had been disciplined for various unwise activities online, such as sharing patients' information, complaining about colleagues and gossiping about drinking.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service reported that 62 people had faced disciplinary proceedings due to their use of social media in the past five years. University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust reported 47 cases, and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, 37.

Among those who were sacked for their misdeeds were two nurses and a healthcare assistant who were given the heave-ho in 2013 for joking about patients on Twitter and saying they were too hungover to work.

NHS workers’ use of messaging apps for their day jobs has come under scrutiny before. For instance, a small study published in BMJ Innovations last year found that 97 per cent of staffers had shared sensitive patient information on instant messengers without obtaining consent.

Moreover, a separate study (PDF) found that 43 per cent of NHS workers used at least one consumer instant messaging app, with WhatsApp rating highest and Facebook Messenger second.

Staff have argued that such apps are now crucial for patient care – the over-reliance of the health service on outdated tech like pagers or fax machines is well documented – but the latest figures demonstrate that more care is needed on the wider use of social media and messaging services.

The data protection implications will need particular consideration – but it’s worth noting that people who want to abuse the system will do so regardless of technology; one only needs look at the NHS workers who have been fined for unlawful access to medical records. ®

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