Social Media and Professional Responsibility
Recent controversy surrounding a post made by Gary Lineker vividly demonstrates the difficulties that can arise in balancing a right to express personal opinions against obligations of professional responsibility. It is particularly important for healthcare professionals to be conscious of getting this balance right when posting on social media.
Clemmie Hooper (‘the Registrant’) is a registered midwife who recently faced a number of charges at a Nursing and Midwifery Council (‘NMC’) hearing relating to postings she had made on Tattle Life under the pseudonym ‘Alice in Wanderlust’ between November 2018 and March 2019. It was admitted and found proven that comments posted by the Registrant were “racially offensive and/or discriminatory” but found not proven that the Registrant’s actions were racially motivated.
The Panel found that the Registrant’s actions amounted to misconduct and were a serious departure from the required standards. NMC Counsel submitted that the racial elements to the charges might dissuade patients from black and ethnic minority backgrounds from engaging in midwifery services. In determining sanction, the Panel considered the remediation undertaken by the Registrant, including diversity training and health issues that she had at the time of the events in question. A 12-month caution order was imposed.
This case is an important reminder that online activities can have a significant impact on an individual’s professional registration, particularly any that potentially undermine public confidence in the profession.
The NMC’s guidance on ‘using social media responsibly’ (paragraph 20.10) states:
"Nurses, midwives and nursing associates may put their registration at risk, and students may jeopardise their ability to join our register, if they act in any way that is unprofessional or unlawful on social media including (but not limited to): • bullying, intimidating or exploiting people; • inciting hatred or discrimination”.
The General Medical Council (‘GMC’) guidance ‘Doctor’s Use of Social Media’ states that “The standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media” (paragraph 5).
The General Dental Council (‘GDC’) has similar guidance on social media usage.
If you would like any further information or advice, please contact Rachael McAdorey from the Healthcare team.
*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.