NHS guidance on using instant messaging in a crisis

NEW guidance has been released to help doctors, nurses and other NHS staff safely use instant messaging and other digital technology to co-ordinate patient care during emergencies.

It is in response to the use by medics of communication channels such as Whatsapp to deal with emergency situations like the Croydon tram crash, Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks at the London Bridge and Manchester Arena.

The aim is to help NHS organisations and staff make sound judgements on how and when to use such technologies safely in acute clinical settings, taking in to account data sharing and privacy rules.

Among other precautionary steps it advises that staff should only use apps and other messaging tools that meet the NHS encryption standard. Message notifications on device lock-screens should be disabled to protect patient confidentiality and devices used for work should not be accessible to other users. Original messaging notes should be deleted once any advice has been transcribed and attributed in the medical record.

The guidance is provided for staff using instant messaging, videoconferencing, mobile devices including cameras, smartphones and tablets, and also personal devices (BYOD).

Dr Simon Eccles, Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Care, said: "Helping people during a crisis like the Grenfell fire, demands a quick response and instant messaging services can be a vital part of the NHS toolkit. Health service staff are always responsible about how they use patients’ personal details and these new guidelines will help our doctors and nurses to make safe and effective use of technology under the most intense pressure."