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Nurses caught out breaching professional standards on Facebook

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

Nurses are facing disciplinary action for inappropriate use of social media such as Facebook

From the nurses who had a food fight at a hospital to the nurse who posed with a human placenta, there are numerous examples of nurses facing disciplinary action for their inappropriate use of social media.

Nurses fit the social media profile with statistics showing 86 per cent of females aged between 18 and 50 are active in social media, which is also the nursing profession’s main demographic.

The peak nursing organisations in Australia and New Zealand are working to combat the issue, providing nurses and nursing students with guidelines to online professionalism in the wake of an increasing number of nurses being caught, often inadvertently, breaching professional boundaries.

There are a range of high profile cases of nurses violating professional guidelines online, including the 2009 incident where a series

of photos were taken at the Stafford Hospital in the United Kingdom of a food fight between nurses and posted on a nurse’s Facebook site.

At the time, the Healthcare Commission had recently criticised the hospital; finding that up to 1200 patients had needlessly lost their lives as a result of poor nursing care, neglect and staff shortages.

The food fight came to light when a relative of a patient who had died of neglect at the hospital saw the Facebook images and alerted a local lobby group.

Also in the UK, a male community psychiatric nurse was struck off the UK Register of Nurses in 2008 for contacting a former patient on Facebook and starting a sexual relationship with the woman.

In one case, seven UK nurses and doctors were suspended from a hospital after posting photos of themselves on Facebook playing the ‘lying down game’ on hospital premises, using hospital trolleys and ward floors.

And in America, a nursing student was expelled after she posted a photo on Facebook of herself with a human placenta.

Australia has not been immune, with the Australian Nursing Federation last year revealing growing numbers of Australian nurses are being reprimanded for posting comments regarding “sensitive issues” online.

“Social networking may be instant and fun, but people are increasingly using these mediums to complain about employers, fellow staff members and among our colleagues and even patients,” ANF federal secretary Lee Thomas told Nursing Careers Allied Health.

“Clearly, using social networking sites in this manner is problematic in the growing number of cases of employers initiating disciplinary proceedings against staff in relation to comments made on social networking sites.”

In New Zealand, it has been text messaging, not social media, which has landed nurses in hot water according to The Nursing Council of New Zealand.

Information on social media standards are available for Australian nurses at: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/FAQ.aspx and for New Zealand nurses at: http://www.nzno.org.nz/Portals/0/Files/Documents/Services/Social%20Media%20and%20the%20Nursing%20Profession.pdf.

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