Nurses sanctioned for improper use of social media

Clinicians faced fitness to practice proceedings after Facebook posts

Improper use of social media has led to a number of nurses being removed from the nursing register, new information has revealed.

Figures released to the Nursing Standard showed that 20 nurses have faced fitness to practise (FtP) proceedings at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) from 2012 to 2015 in relation to their use of social media.

The data, released in response to a freedom of information request, showed Facebook was often the platform where a misdemeanour occurred.

In total, eight nurses were removed from the register, three were suspended, six were given cautions and three others received other forms of NMC sanction in the three-year period.

Misconduct included seeking out inappropriate friendships with patients or colleagues, leaving explicit, racist or sexist comments and airing grievances publicly.

In 2014, James Cook University Hospital children’s nurse Paul Stephens hit the headlines after being removed from the register for posting abusive comments about Islam, homosexuality and disabled people on blogs and Twitter.

Similarly, last year South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust staff nurse Lisa Kane was removed from the nursing register for making racially offensive comments on Facebook.

Social media specialist and registered nurse Teresa Chinn, founder of the We Nurses online community, said Facebook can lull users into a false sense of security because of its privacy settings.

‘It might have been a busy, even horrific shift, but the second you log on and pick up that laptop or phone, you are stepping into a public arena.’

NMC social media guidelines say nurses may put their registration at risk if they act in any way that is unprofessional or unlawful on social media.

Some of these actions include:

  • Sharing confidential information inappropriately
  • Posting pictures of patients without their consent
  • Posting inappropriate comments about patients
  • Building or pursuing relationships with patients
  • Inciting hatred or discrimination

RCN principal legal officer Rosalind Hooper said: ‘Certain activity can put your registration at risk and it is crucial nursing staff take NMC guidance in this area as seriously as they would any other.

‘Common mistakes include anything from uploading drunken photographs to befriending patients.

‘Nurses need to maintain their professionalism in the digital sphere, upholding confidentiality and steering clear of any inappropriate communication.’

Ms Hooper, however, added that social media can be a highly beneficial tool for nurses, helping them to build professional networks and access support.

An NMC spokesperson said: ‘Nurses and midwives should refer to our online guidance, along with any guidance issued by their employer on social media.'