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Organisations urge caution after pharmacist Facebook rant

NPA's Leyla Hannbeck: Contractors should create social media policies for their staff

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 employmentadvice@npa.co.uk

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

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25 Comments

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

It would be so useful if DoH, NHSE, GPhC etc. etc. redefined certain words like "rude" "unkind" "impolite" "courtesy" etc. and published them for the use by healthcare professionals. So next time there is a complaint we can refer to this dictionary and see if the words as mentioned in complaint had complied with these new definitions. Also it makes our life so easy to understand when we are actually projected to have been or used one of these words. May be a NICE guidelines and a CPPE course for all Pharmacists and medics ???

The moral of this story is threefold: One: if you're an employer, have a social media policy that your staff are aware relates to talking about work-related stuff whether on or off duty; Two: if an employee, bear in mind that a significant number of customers will be behaviourally impaired for (one hopes, temporary) clinical reasons, and make allowances accordingly. And Three: remember the NHS golden rule - keep patient-identifiable information confidential!

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I am not aware of any Pharmacy that does not have such "Policies" or "SOPs" making it clear that the RP or any other member of staff cannot use work place Internet for any purpose other than for purely business related activities. Why everyone jumps to having more paper work to save their back sides and increase the fees paid to such consultants?? What if the concerned pharmacist is an owner himself ?? or a superintendent pharmacist who has signed these documents ?? Lets stop pointing at the need for more paperwork and control our frustrations and angers to ourselves in PRIVATE. There is no such document or policy in place to put a customer or patient in front of a FtP or a court for using abusive language ?? apart from some practices displaying "We follow zero tolerance policy against our staff" but when it comes to action it is always the other person behind the counter who is targeted.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

If he is an employee, his employer could rightly accuse him of bringing the pharmacy into disrepute! I recommend to pharmacies that they have a contractual social media policy, which should also be part of Information Governance. This rant may effect patient trust in the pharmacy and have adverse consequences for the business.

Andrew Watson, Superintendent Pharmacist

Not commenting on the rights or wrongs of what Mr Shanks did. BUT how do the GPhC know what was on a private FB page ? I suspect that one of Mr Shank's colleagues reported the matter. As a profession we do not stand together but will happily stab each other in the back.

Hayley Johnson, Community pharmacist

Is there any indication that it was a private page? So many people I know are really lax about their privacy settings. Though frankly, there are ways and means to vent frustrations, and this very clearly isn't one of them.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Well certainly makes life interesting when folk have a rant on social media. But I think there is a culture of people looking for opportunities to be outraged at almost anything. Then they go into their 'shock horror holier than thou mode' which is breath taking in its self righteousness.

Caroline ACT, Accuracy checking technician

Well said Gerry :)

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Too right, Gerry. I think Stephen Fry got it right.. .It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what."

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

carefull here what if people said things about you and your family....perhaps you had a sick child with a conditon and they made fun of that....would you then say i am offended so f"££king what please be mindful.....this is what racists,homophobes, and bully think....

Caroline ACT, Accuracy checking technician

Well said Paul :)

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Oh that's a good one. Love it!

max falconer, Superintendent Pharmacist

Unless Mr Shanks actually named the individual, surely he has the right to make a comment that he feels is appropriate however much others may disagree? If free speech still exists, it must encompass the right to say things others may not wish to hear or find offensive, otherwise it is meaningless. Unless a particular individual has been named and the description of them can not be justified or substantiated, this is not an area in which the GPhC should be involved.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

And this is why I avoid using social media.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Benjamin don't be such a wet....lol :-)

K Brown, Locum pharmacist

Bravo!! Perhaps the number one way to help destroy a small business. Where is your common sense?! If one of our analysts spoke about a client this way, their desk would be cleared by the Monday morning. Rant would have been better face to face, less evidence! ;-)

Neeraj Salwan, Superintendent Pharmacist

Oh oh he's gonna get murdered by GPhC FtP committee.., they have their agenda of making examples of pharmacists to the public ,no sympathy here I fear- good luck & hopefully common sense prevails..

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Yes, it was very ill advised to post such comments on a public forum. However, pharmacy is a very highly stressed profession and one can easily understand how the daily frustrations, pressures and provocations can build up to exploding point. A learning point for all and as another poster commented perhaps (GPhC) no more than a quiet word with the gentleman concerned and let this incident end there.

Jacques Gholam, Community pharmacist

It is easy to offer such advice about guidelines concerning using social media but please let it stop there, I certainly do not condone intemperate epithets about certain named individuals on FB or Twitter but look at it from Mr Shanks point of view. He had done, perhaps, all he could in the face of chronic stock shortages and despite believing that he had persuaded the patient accordingly, that same patient chose to slander him and his shop for something over which he had little control. As an independent I can only imagine his incandescent rage and perhaps he should have counted to ten first but his anger , in my view, would be totally understandable. So on his behalf , I beseech the GPhC and these others to turn a blind eye on this occasion and perhaps should have had a quiet word with him rather than queue up on this forum to pass judgement and accept that he was provoked beyond measure.

Z ZZzzzz, Information Technology

Agreed. And GPhC should point the patient in the direction of the two major wholesalers and all the major big pharma companies who collude in making drug shortages what seems to be their USP these days rather than customer service! Just spotted a pig flying.

Hackney Drug Dealer, Community pharmacist

Professional Standing? Get broader shoulders and get the chip off of it. 'Professionals do it even when they don't want to (because 'it' is the right thing to do) and with a smile on their face. Empathise with the frustrated desire to 'kick a box' in the stock room. Can't sympathise with putting egg on your own face. Whatever you commit to paper or e-media can and may be used against you. (the GPhC will see to that ;-) )

Chris Bland, Superintendent Pharmacist

I hope you are putting this advise on Twitter and FB? As a feed?

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Looks like this news paper is the Scottish version of Dailymail. But OMG ..... why would someone post such things on the public forum, even if it was on your personal page ????

Nancy Kane,

Minor point, but there's no such paper as the Edinburgh Evening Post. The Edinburgh Evening News, on the other hand, has been around for donkeys years.

James Waldron, Editorial

Dear Ms Kane, Thank you for pointing this out. The paper's title has now been amended. Regards, James Waldron, C+D news editor

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