A majority of NHS England trusts have no policy or alternatives in place to discourage staff from using consumer instant messaging apps as part of their work, according to responses to a series of freedom of information requests.
Responses from 136 of 151 trusts in England showed 58% did not have a policy in place and 56% provided staff with no approved alternative to the consumer apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. By contrast, 17 said they had banned such applications altogether.
The exercise was carried out by mobile technology company CommonTime, which earlier this year published a report on the use of the services in healthcare. It said that while they are delivering benefits in patient care and large numbers of staff are becoming reliant on them, the trend of increasing take-up is increasing the risk of accidental or malicious misuse.
Six trusts that responded listed consumer applications including WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage as official channels, despite limitations in being able to trace how patient data is transmitted, and challenges around integrating information with NHS systems. Researchers said this raised concerns around compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that came into force this year.
Need for action
Steve Carvell, head of healthcare at CommonTime, said the new findings show that many trusts need to do more to support their staff.
“It is encouraging to see pioneering trusts supporting their staff, some with instant messaging applications specifically designed to cater for healthcare workflow and that can help staff work more effectively in pressured environments when they are caring for patients.
“But our latest research also shows that many other trusts still need to take action to provide staff with the tools they need to communicate effectively in delivering patient care. Staff need to be given guidance to help ensure organisations can comply with ever more stringent data protection regulations.”
Image from Imperial College NHS Trust