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Appeal to nurses: ‘stick by colleagues if they’re caught up in a social media storm’

Staff in controversial care cases face abuse online – with even nurses joining in

Staff in controversial care cases face abuse online – and even nurses join in


Stephen McKeever. Picture: John Houlihan

Nurses should stick by colleagues who become targets of online abuse while involved in high-profile care cases, RCN congress heard.

College members discussed the impact on nurses involved in care disputes that attract media attention.

Public hostility

Stephen McKeever, of the RCN's children and young people acute care forum, which proposed the discussion, said high-profile cases can lead to nurses being abused on social media.

Despite facing public hostility, there is little protection for the nurses involved or opportunity to respond, he said.

He made the point that nurses help families face difficult decisions, such as stopping treatment in the patient's best interests. 

‘What’s new is the involvement of social media and the frenzy created when some of these cases end up in court. We could say it’s in the public interest, but sometimes it seems to be more about selling chip paper or increasing the number of likes and followers than about helping the family’.

Professionalism and social media use

Nursing student Aimie Morgan, from South Staffordshire, pointed out that patients' families and friends are not bound by rules of confidentiality in the way clinicians are.


Aimie Morgan. Picture: John Houlihan

‘They can say what they like about us… but during these high-profile cases I’ve seen other nurses sharing news articles and petitions calling for the nurses of Great Ormond Street and Alder Hey to be called to account.’ 

In a comment that won applause, she added: 'When using social media we must remain professional and ethical and abide by the Code, but most of all we have to stick by our fellow nurses and colleagues.'

The media – a tool for good

Paul Hannah from the nursing in justice and criminal mental health forum said nurses should try to harness the power of the media to promote the profession.

‘In the national media we only hear about it when something goes wrong,' he said.

'We don’t hear about all the great work that health professionals do. We should embrace the media culture and the power of putting a positive message out into the world that gives people hope. Don’t be afraid of the media – it can be a tool for good.’

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