NHS encouraged to embrace social media openly and responsibly

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17 / 1 / 2013 Midnight

The NHS Employers organisation has published guidance to help the NHS realise the benefits of social media and is calling for a more permissive approach to its use.

'HR and social media in the NHS' explains that social media is increasingly becoming central to the ongoing effectiveness of the NHS. It argues that there is a need for a more open approach alongside greater clarity on professional behaviour and the importance of confidentiality.

The guidance provides examples to help human resources managers, leaders and communications staff use social media more effectively within their organisations.

It highlights three key reasons why social media supports high quality patient care:

Social media is used increasingly by patients to help them understand the growing number of healthcare choices and the quality of services available to them. The NHS should be helping patients find the right information online. 

It allows the NHS to understand emerging developments among staff or patients more quickly and in more detail, including any concerns about the quality of care, so that services can be improved. 

It supports stronger engagement between staff, employers and the public, which patients say improves the quality of care. 

Most NHS organisations have policies covering the use of social media and these are usually modelled around the idea: 'if you wouldn't say it in the canteen, don't type it'. HR and social media in the NHS explains that these measures help prevent social media being misused but they need to be developed further to help the NHS make the most of social media. 

The guidance recommends some initial steps for staff and managers who want to start using or managing social media:
  • Keep an eye on the #nhssm hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag stands for NHS social media and is run by a community of like-minded individuals who give helpful advice on how to use social media effectively. 
  • Speak to colleagues who are active on social media and read their blogs. There are some great examples of healthcare professionals already using social media successfully. 
  • Sign up to quality social media sites that contain the latest news, views and statistics on social media.

The guidance also describes potentially challenging social media scenarios. It calls on NHS managers to consider what new arrangements could be put in place locally to address such situations, given the rapid expansion of social media.

Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, said:

“I believe 2013 will be the year when the NHS significantly changes its view of social media. A tipping point has been reached and people throughout the NHS are recognising that the positive benefits of social media far outweigh its risks.

“I know some people have concerns about confidentially and reputational issues. In the NHS it isn't social media itself that's the issue, but the need for greatly clarity on professional behaviour and confidentiality combined with a more permissive approach in organisational policies encouraging staff to use social media safely. I hope our new guidance helps many organisations find that clarity.

“The NHS more than ever before wants to promote a culture where people can raise issues and be heard. Social media can be an important barometer of emerging issues, opinions and concerns, and we have a duty to listen and get involved.”

NHS Manchester is widely considered to be the top NHS Trust for making full use of social media and this is being developed further for the three Manchester Clinical Commissioning Groups. Val Bayliss-Brideaux, Communications and Engagement Manager, has led many of those successes and says:

“There are more and more people coming into the NHS who are really passionate about social media. It makes a huge difference if senior managers make a clear decision to get behind us, support us and lead the way. Social media lends itself brilliantly to cooperating with other organisations and this is exactly what we've done with Diabetes UK and others – with great feedback from patients.”

Dr Mark Newbold, chief executive of Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and an active user of social media, said:

"For me, social media is about facilitating an open and accessible style of leadership. Social media is democratic, non-hierarchical and of the moment. It is also a great way of keeping up to date and being part of the wider healthcare debate."

Alex Talbott, founder of #NHSSM and contributor of the new guidance, said:

"The NHS staff of tomorrow will all use the internet to improve their work. Many will have been educated by the UK’s schools, colleges and universities who will have provided online modules, revision apps and helpful multimedia. Collectively these future staff will demand and expect to use social media in their jobs. Human resources in the NHS has to come to terms with this and help lay the foundations for staff to use social media to improve their work."

View the full guidance.


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