Recent Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) guidance issued by the Assistant Director of Public and Professional Communications (Andy Jaeger), encourages NHS managers to actively respond to issues around how their staff use social media.

The guidance was prompted following questions surrounding confidentiality and whether it was appropriate to become friends with patients on Facebook. The NMC was seeing an increase in the number of cases before its Fitness to Practice Panels which involve social networking sites and online activity. BMA guidance was also issued as it was felt more people were using social media and the guidelines were lacking.

Andy Jaeger believes NHS managers must be better equipped to handle issues around social media following an increase in a number of enquiries from nurses and midwives about social media referrals that directly relate to social networking.

Andy Jaeger says: “... It needs … a robust response at a local level. In our advice much of what we’ve done is interpret the standards that already exist around conduct, performance and ethics. We are just helping people to understand what it is that is going on and then act appropriately … That really is better done not with a set of national guidelines from the Department of Health, but with Local Managers taking responsibility and understanding the issues and dealing with it for themselves.”

A survey from the Guardian’s Healthcare Network showed 72 separate actions were carried out by 16 trusts against staff that inappropriately used social media between 2008 and 2009.

The guidance sets out how The Code: standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives (NMC 2008) can be applied in thinking about social networking sites and provides practical advice for using them responsibly. While the guidance addresses specific issues such as Facebook, it applies to all kinds of online communication and information shared online.

The NMC is currently helping the British Psychology Society produce its own set of social media guidelines for psychologists. The NMC is also interested in encouraging healthcare professionals to use networking sites to positively engage with patients and share good health stories.