NHS regulators approve the use of WhatsApp during emergencies

The change comes after healthcare professionals turned to instant messaging apps during the Grenfell Tower fire, Manchester and London Bridge attacks.

Ian Snug
13 November 2018
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NHS England has published guidance on the use of instant messaging apps during emergencies.

New guidance for doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff approves the use of instant messaging apps safely to co-ordinate patients’ care during emergencies.

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Healthcare professionals have previously turned to communication channels such as Whatsapp to deal with emergency situations like the Croydon tram crash, Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Manchester Arena.

NHS England has not endorsed any particular instant messaging tools; instead, the guidance sets out which apps meet the stringent NHS encryption and data transmission criteria – offering Viber, Telegram, and Signal as alternatives.

Patient safety is enhanced.

During emergencies, appropriate, fast communication is key.

Mr. Andrew Miles, Consultant General Surgeon and Royal College of Surgeons Council Member, said: “Patient safety is enhanced when NHS staff can quickly communicate confidential patient information between teams, such as by instant messaging.

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“Doctors have a responsibility to abide by all relevant rules on patient confidentiality and a professional responsibility to ensure they do not breach that confidentiality when using instant messaging tools.

“This important guidance will keep our patients safer by empowering clinical teams to use the latest and best available technology.”

Not a substitute for medical records.

The guidelines stress that separate clinical reports must still be kept and clinicians should only turn to standalone instant messaging services if their organisation does not provide a suitable alternative.

Dawn Monaghan, Director of the Information Governance Alliance, said: “Improved communication between medical professionals keeps patients safer.

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“Instant messaging however is no substitute for the medical record and it is important any advice received on those channels is added to the medical record, with the original messages deleted.

“This guidance has been designed with clinicians to help NHS organisations and their staff take a proportionate approach, considering both the potential risks to privacy and the potential improvements in patient safety.

“I’m hopeful this new guidance will prove a valuable resource to assist NHS organisations in implementing policies that will help their staff decide when it is appropriate to use instant messaging tools and when it isn’t.”

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