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A human rights perspective on the use of social media by the ambulance services

02 December 2019
Volume 11 · Issue 12


Social media use on behalf of ambulance services by paramedics, student paramedics and ancillary staff—‘corporate tweeting’, as it has become known—has in recent times been the subject of much debate in the paramedic profession. It has been argued that social media use is an unstoppable tide and a necessary means of imparting information to members of the public about the work the ambulance service performs. Conversely, others have argued that by tweeting about their patients, the ambulance service is breaching a fundamental code of professional ethics due to the use of confidential patient data. This article explores the UK legal framework of privacy and confidence in the healthcare context, from a human rights perspective, and seeks to demonstrate that some corporate tweeting has breached not only ethical standards, but may also have crossed the line into unlawfulness owing to the public nature of the organisations involved, and their legal duty to protect the human rights of their service users.

A number of articles have recently been published regarding the use of social media by paramedics (College of Paramedics, 2015; Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), 2017; Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), 2019; College of Paramedics, 2019; Cotton et al, 2019; Mallinson, 2019; Smith et al, 2019); however, none have included a comprehensive analysis of the legalities of social media use by health professionals.

The present article therefore will seek to explicate the legal position of ambulance service social media use and its potential to impinge on the fundamental human rights of ambulance service users, which in its essence may diminish the eons-old ethic of confidentiality and trust associated with the ‘doctor-patient relationship’ and thus cause real harm to individual patients, paramedics and the paramedic profession.

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