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A large number of NHS staff in England use instant messaging apps to communicate with each other in delivering patient care, and most NHS trusts don't discourage this practice, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have found
Figures show that 43% of staff rely heavily on apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger for work, according to a report by mobile technology supplier CommonTime.
More than half of NHS trusts (58%) have no policy in place to discourage use of instant messaging apps among staff, and 56% have no other alternatives for staff, according to FOI responses from 136 of the 151 NHS trusts in England.
While 17 trusts have banned instant messaging apps, six NHS trusts have gone the opposite way and even listed WhatsApp and Apple iMessage as official communication channels used within the organisations, despite experts being concerns around compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and patient data being shared across non-secure channels.
The report found that while instant messaging is used for things like handover, or managing staff rotas, it is also used for sharing patient information and medical documents.
This can lead to sensitive medical information being stored on the staff’s mobile phones, or information accidentally being shared with non-clinical staff, the report said.
“Out of all staff who use instant messaging applications, 4.26% have been disciplined for using them. Despite this relatively high percentage, it does not seem to be having the desired effect of reducing usage,” the report said.
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The results show that there is a need for NHS trusts to get to grips with technology and make sure staff have easy and secure ways of communicating with each other without breaching GDPR rules.
Rowan Pritchard-Jones, plastic surgeon and chief clinical information officer at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said that NHS staff have adopted technology “likely in the belief they are doing the right thing to support patient care, in an increasingly pressurised environment”.
“It is incumbent on digital leaders to embed in our evolving culture the need to protect patient confidentiality, deliver these conversations into the patient record, and support staff to have these interactions with the support of their organisations,” he said.