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Staff use of the internet

Q. We feel we need to establish some rules for internet use by practice staff. This includes the use of e-mails. An article appeared in Pulse not so long ago which gave some very helpful advice. Could you remind us of the main points?

A. Allowing everyone in the practice to have access to the internet is a risk that must be actively managed. Practice policies should cover:

·When employees may or may not access the internet and whether personal use is allowed in non-practice time

·Whether employees are required to use their own log-in or password, keep passwords secret, and log off when finished to protect themselves in the event of an audit trail to investigate inappropriate use

·A warning that access may not be secure (for example when using online banking)

·A note of the types of site that may not be accessed (job adverts, offensive or pornographic websites)

·The need to observe copyright, licensing and other laws

·A ban on changing system security settings

·A ban on loading unauthorised software on to the system or downloading unauthorised software from the internet

·A ban on the use of sites for criminal purposes

·A ban on divulging confidential information about the practice or patients on chat-rooms, blogs and so on

·A ban on posting defamatory or offensive material

·Guidance on when a breach of the policy will result in disciplinary action

·A policy on practice e-mail usage ­ this is a comprehensive section in its own right and should specify that employees of the practice:

­ Use professional language in all e-mails

­ Do not bring the practice into disrepute

­ Do not send e-mails that are abusive, pornographic, racist, sexist or in any other way inflammatory or illegal

­ In the interests of patient safety must agree, when absent, to have work-related e-mails read by colleagues

­ May be subject to disciplinary action for specified breaches.

Dr Melanie Wynne Jones, Marple, Cheshire

Put it down on paper

Q. With general practice becoming ever more businesslike and competitive we feel we need to draw up a proper partnership agreement. Can you give any tips?

A. You are certainly right in thinking you need a proper agreement. Even the most harmonious practices can run into trouble. I would suggest the following:

·Hire a solicitor who understands general practice

·Peruse the draft contracts carefully ­ check anything you don't understand

·Think about your practice's specific needs and idiosyncrasies

·Imagine everything that could go wrong

·Avoid ambiguity

Important areas to cover in the contract are workload, money, purchase and sale of premises, illness, paternity leave, maternity leave and outside work. Most solicitors with experience in medical matters have off-the-shelf agreements that can be tailored to your own circumstances.

Dr Peter Moore, Torquay

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