The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has recently published guidance on the use of social media by pharmacy professionals. It might be thought that what a pharmacist does outside work is of no concern to the GPhC unless, in some respect, it affects the pharmacist (or could be thought to affect the pharmacist) when he or she is at work.
However, as a profession, pharmacists are expected to maintain proper standards and professional behaviour even outside the clinical setting. A pharmacist’s conduct outside of work can cause concern for the GPhC. This includes making offensive or inappropriate remarks on social media which may undermine public confidence in the profession or bring the profession into disrepute.
Social media sites, such as Facebook or Instagram, are the online equivalent of sharing thoughts and pictures with friends in the local pub. One key difference, however, is that the friend group is usually much wider and, therefore, the ability for interactions to remain private is harder to control.
Even if the post is to a closed group of friends, no single person would normally be under an obligation to keep the post confidential and might verbally discuss it or show it to another person or share it outside of the group.
Pharmacists frequently have other pharmacy staff and pharmacists as friends on their social media network, who may have their own obligations to the GPhC. Social posts, which are not to a closed group, such as tweets, are obviously much easier for the GPhC to access or become aware of.
If a social media post links the pharmacist to the pharmacy, patients or colleagues, its contents are most likely to be of interest to the GPhC if it is derogatory (about the pharmacy, patients or colleagues), harassing or bullying in nature, or contain discriminatory remarks. Such posts could potentially cause damage to the profession’s reputation or lead to a breakdown in relationships with colleagues and patients.
The GPhC’s new guidance note on social media reminds pharmacy professionals that they must uphold proper standards both in the pharmacy and in their personal lives, including through their use of social media. Fitness-to-practise proceedings by the GPhC arising out of the inappropriate use of social media are rare and are likely to remain so even following this guidance (which largely reflects the GPhC’s current approach to social media). However, the most serious cases may result in an investigation by the GPhC so care should be taken.
Charles Russell Speechlys LLP