A complaint involving the use of social media to express personal views

On 27 and 29 September 2021 the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) completed an Inquiry into a complaint made by the Registrar of the PSI which arose from a social media post made by a pharmacist in May 2018. The post was made in response to an online thread related to the referendum on the 36th amendment of the Constitution (“the abortion referendum”) which took place in May 2018.

In the course of the post, the pharmacist expressed their views regarding termination of pregnancy services and commented on the role of pharmacists including that in relation to supplying medication for the termination of pregnancy services. Furthermore, the pharmacist expressly identified themselves as being a pharmacist in stating their views.

The complaint of the Registrar had centered not on the substance of the pharmacist's views, but rather the manner in which those views had been expressed. The Committee found that the pharmacist, in posting a social media comment in which they identified themselves as a pharmacist, had used language to express their views on the issue of the termination of pregnancy services/abortion and/or the role of a pharmacist in the termination of pregnancy services, including in relation to the supply of medicines for the termination of pregnancy, which was inflammatory and/or inappropriate. The Committee found that as a result, the pharmacist was guilty of professional misconduct in that they had acted in a manner that was infamous and/or disgraceful in a professional respect and that they had breached Principle 4 of the Code of Conduct for Pharmacists (2009 version)*.

The Committee drew particular inference from the pharmacist identifying themselves as such and felt that expressing those views as a pharmacist was inappropriate and also in conflict with the PSI Guidance for Pharmacists on the use of Digital and Social Media and the PSI Code of Conduct for Pharmacists.

The Committee accepted in full the evidence of the expert witness called by the Registrar and found the following opinion to be particularly persuasive:

“the actions of pharmacists online are held to a higher standard of accountability by the public. [The pharmacist] identifies [themselves] as a pharmacist and as a result [their] online comments must be considered through the prism of the PSI Guidance for Pharmacists. In particular, it must be considered if [their] comments damage the good name of the pharmacy profession”


“Professionals have ethical standards that demand ‘more than conventional morality and law’. The guidance that currently applies governing the use of social media by pharmacists is in place to ensure that their online activity is consistent with their professional role. However, pharmacists must be cognisant of the fact that comments made in the heat of the moment on social media can have serious and unexpected repercussions. This is why it is important to separate online professional and private profiles and interactions.”

The Committee noted that professional misconduct can arise through the use of social media and that it is potentially damaging to society if it undermines pharmacists, who are at the forefront of healthcare provision. The Committee noted that such damage can be inadvertent and there was no evidence that the pharmacist in this case had set out to undermine the profession. The Committee felt however that the manner in which the pharmacist’s views were expressed introduced the potential to damage the good name of the profession in the eyes of the public.

Learning Outcomes

This case highlights the risks which can arise when expressing views over social media. Pharmacists are reminded that if expressing personal views in a public context, particularly in important or socially sensitive subjects, they should do so in a manner that is consistent with PSI Guidance on the Use of Digital and Social Media and the Code of Conduct for Pharmacists. They should also ensure that any commentary is not damaging to the reputation of, and confidence in, the profession, and does not create a risk to public health & safety. Pharmacists should take care also in respect of the manner in which they express their personal views or opinions in a public domain such as social media, particularly where they identify themselves as a pharmacist.

The PSI Guidance for Pharmacists on the use of Digital and Social Media aims to ensure that pharmacists are cognisant of their responsibilities to ensure that their online activity is consistent with their professional role.

Key points, as set out on page 2 are as follows:

  • Interactions through digital and social media are subject to the same professional standards and ethical considerations as other personal or public interactions.
  • Consider how best to separate your online professional and private profiles and interactions.
  • Preserve patient confidentiality and privacy.
  • Ensure that all information posted online is appropriate for the audience that can access it and the location in which it is posted.
  • Evaluate health information for quality and accuracy before posting online.
  • Develop policies for the professional management of digital and social media.

In conclusion, pharmacists should remember:

  • The important distinction between the personal and professional views of the pharmacist.
  • How the pharmacist as a professional is perceived when using social media, even from a personal account.

Guidance Documents

The guidance documents referenced above are accessible at the following links:

*Principle 4 of the Code of Conduct for Pharmacists, 2009 stated as follows: ‘A pharmacist must conduct himself/herself in a manner which enhances the service which their profession as a whole provides to society and should not act in a way which might damage the good name of their profession”