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Organisations urge caution after pharmacist Facebook rant

Pharmacy leaders, including the NPA's Leyla Hannbeck, have advocated more careful use of social media after a pharmacist branded a patient a “total retard” on the platform

Pharmacy organisations have warned their members against careless use of social media after a pharmacist referred to a patient as a “fucktard” on Facebook.

Charles Shanks of Calder Pharmacy in Edinburgh called the patient a “total retard” in a Facebook post, after the patient - Mr Shanks alleged - used the same website to complain that staff were “not doing [their] jobs properly”.

The pharmacy had not been able to dispense the patient’s medication because of stock shortages, Mr Shanks explained in his Facebook post, which was published by the Edinburgh Evening News last week. Mr Shanks, the pharmacy's superintendent, was unavailable for comment when contacted by C+D.

Both the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and Calder Pharmacy's local health board, NHS Lothian, have said they are considering the incident.

'Unacceptable'

NPA head of pharmacy services Leyla Hannbeck told C+D on Friday (April 17) that Mr Shanks’ Facebook post was “clearly utterly unacceptable...whatever frustrations that might be boiling”. She advised pharmacists to draw up social media policies that “spelled out risks, appropriate behaviour and consequences” for when these guidelines had been breached.

RPS head of corporate communications Neal Patel said that social media was a “fantastic tool” to communicate with other healthcare professionals and the public, but warned it was a “very public forum” which required “careful use”. Pharmacists should act on social media in the same manner they would when having public conversations, he stressed.

'Think carefully'

Numark director of marketing Mandeep Mudhar also urged pharmacists to “think carefully” when using social media. While Mr Shanks had clearly “got to the end of his tether about stock shortages”, the statement he made about a patient was “entirely inappropriate”, Mr Mudhar said.

Social media was “fast becoming essential” as a marketing tool for pharmacists, but statements made online in the “heat of the moment cannot be taken back and the speed they can travel is alarming”, Mr Mudhar added.

The General Pharmaceutical Society (GPhC) said it was aware of the allegations against Mr Shanks and was “currently considering the information we have received in relation to this matter”.

NHS Lothian – which Calder Pharmacy operates within – said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegations made against Mr Shanks.

“Pharmacists are independent contractors but we will look into this case immediately to ensure the highest standards of professionalism continue to be upheld. We would like to apologise to the patient for any distress caused,” said NHS Lothian director of pharmacy Angela Timoney.

The dos and don’ts of social media

The NPA’s business partner for employment law Ellis Whitman gives contractors guidance on how to encourage best practice among staff

  • Clearly set out the rules regarding social media, both inside and outside work
  • Clarify the consequences of any breach
  • Confirm the right to monitor employees’ use of social media sites during working hours on company equipment
  • Conduct a regular review in light of any breaches or changes seen to the business
  • Always seek expert advice at an early opportunity and prior to acting – NPA members can access advice free of charge by contacting [email protected]

How do you encourage best practice on social media among your staff?

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