Rightly, the world is talking about COVID-19, the Coronavirus, now categorised as a pandemic. It would be strange if we were not.
Social media is a catalyst for spreading information. This can be very useful for governments wishing to get the right information out there – we have already heard about how googling “coronavirus” will take you to official government advice.
Many healthcare professionals also use social media – Twitter is a medium I’m most familiar with and where I’ve seen most discussions, sharing of anecdotes, real-life situations and challenge. Of course, this is what we do and what Twitter is for. I’ve also come across confusion – rumours – and what appear to be recommendations from health care professionals without being clear that this is just an opinion not current advice.
COVID-19 is a new disease. Events are unfolding minute to minute, hour to hour. Governments are issuing advice but where rumours circulate, people fill in their own gaps and this can result not only in confusion but panic – not what we want on a mass level at the moment.
The office of the Chief Nursing Officer shared a video of Dr Ruth May very sincerely thanking nurses for their work but I think we need more general clarity and advice from them. The NMC has been repeatedly tagged since the Independent reported that Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, “said third year unqualified nursing students would be asked to help care for patients”. An understandable flurry of questions, comments and opinions followed with nobody quite able to confirm how this was meant to work in practice and the NMC issuing late evening tweets in an attempt to reassure and calm. There is a complex interplay between politicians and health care professionals. The health care professions advise, but at the end of the day, it’s the government that makes these organisational decisions.
So, for now, we wait while these things are ironed out. Waiting doesn’t need to be passive. We can use our professional knowledge responsibly and we can challenge intelligently and in line with the NMC social media guidance. Practically – I guess “Think before you tweet” is the mantra. Why are we sending this tweet, what message does it send to our followers, how does it look that a registered nurse or nursing associate has sent out this tweet for those who look to us for advice? We absolutely need to use our voice at this time – it is essential – and there are many, many nurses tweeting responsibly and in this way. But for all of us, *definitely* myself included – it can be useful just to pause give what we are saying a quick once-over before we hit that button!