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WhatsApp to become integral in emergencies for the NHS

Social media is becoming increasingly prominent in all aspects of life, and the NHS is no exception. The latest development is the increasing use of WhatsApp as a key tool for clinicians when responding to emergency situations.


The benefits of using instant messaging have already been seen in recent events such as last year's Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, where medics turned to communication apps to deal with the situations. 

New guidance from the NHS has effectively sanctioned the use of instant messaging services for medical staff, while still advising caution and asking clinicians to ensure any apps they use meet strict encryption standards. It’s also vital to ensure access to the app and mobile device is limited to the user only, as it could contain confidential patient data.

Dr Helgi Johannsson, a consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, became involved in reviewing the new guidance after he set up a major incident instant messaging group to help coordinate his hospital's response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

He said: "Fully encrypted instant messaging services can be a particularly useful communication tool in delivering care to people during a major incident… These sensible guidelines will make the care of our patients safer through better communication by NHS staff."

Some of the key points in the new guidance include:

  • Any app used must meet the NHS end-to-end encryption standard
  • The amount of patient identifiable data communicated via instant messaging is minimised
  • Keep in mind that instant messaging conversations may be subject to freedom of information requests or subject access requests
  • Don’t allow anyone else to use your device. Set your device to require a pass code immediately, and for it to lock out after a short period of not being used


It is also thought that the introduction of these new instant messaging apps could be beneficial in the case of any further cyber-attacks or attempted cyber-attacks, as staff can keep in contact with each other more easily outside of working hours.


Practices need to be aware of the risks (and benefits) of using social media to communicate with colleagues and the public. FPM has published a series of articles about taking care while using social media, including
How safe are you socially?


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