It would be fair to say the National Health Service has a love-hate relationship with social media. Like any major organisation, the NHS has to contend with its fair share of negative commentary online, yet social media platforms are also where patients share their heart-warming stories of heroic staff and lives saved.

But it’s not just patients who are getting their messages out via social media. Increasingly, we’re seeing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and a whole host of other health professionals using Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms to share advice and information.

There’s a growing feeling that whether you use social media or not, it’s where your audience is at, so you can’t ignore it.

At Redmoor Health, we really see the value in giving NHS staff a voice on social media. They’re a trusted source of information, so their messages can have a real impact and reach.

We’ve done a lot of work upskilling general practice nurses in social media and already we’ve got numerous examples of practices using channels such as Facebook to engage directly with patients. The potential impact of this is massive, enabling them to reach people who might not regularly visit the surgery, as well as providing ongoing support for patients with long term conditions.

Some practices are now able to demonstrate that using Facebook to promote ways to stay well – for example attending potentially life-saving cancer screenings – is leading to a significant rise in uptake. This in turn will improve outcomes because if you spot a cancer at the screening stage, often before there’s a lump or any other symptoms, we know the survival rate is a lot higher.

In 2017/18, 7,938 women in Stoke-on-Trent either didn’t attend their breast screening appointment or opted out of going – which translates to around 65 cases of potential breast cancer not being detected.

The North Midlands Breast Screening Service started promoting their Facebook page on local community groups which their target group - women aged over 50 - regularly visited. The service’s Facebook page also answered questions in the group and by direct messaging, enabling women to book appointments more easily. The result was that first-time appointments increased by nearly 13 per cent.

The project formed part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, which is commissioned by NHS England and aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

Practices in Lancashire are using Facebook to promote cervical screening. One surgery, North Preston Medical Centre in Preston, has seen a 10 per cent increase in women attending cervical screening appointments since starting to promote them on social media.

Timing is very important when it comes to the effectiveness of social media campaigns. For example, people most use social media on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. You can’t expect NHS staff to be respond to posts from the public late on a Saturday night so we’ve worked with Lancaster University to create a chatbot that will help answer patient questions. It can do that over the weekend, log the patient’s details and then the booking team can contact them on Monday for a follow-up. Using technology in this way is helping the NHS to stop people slipping through the net.

Celebrity support can cause social media campaigns to go viral. Last year actress Michelle Keegan urged women to go for smear tests in an Instagram post about her own test. In a video blog after the procedure she said how quick and easy it was, telling her fans it was not painful.

At about the same time Bay Medical in Morecambe put a post on Facebook to increase smear test numbers and it attracted one million views, resulting in a 100 extra bookings for smear tests! The key for social media is using the right platform for the right audience but there’s no denying it saves lives.