Medical defence organisation MDDUS is urging doctors to stay away from snappy-happy photographers and avoid appearing in pictures from their Christmas ‘do’ or New Year party.

The organisation warns that even doctors who don’t use Facebook and Twitter could end up featuring in pictures online.

MDDUS head of professional services, Dr Jim Rodger said that doctors are never off duty and have to adhere to a high standard of conduct at all times.

“Doctors are a registered medical practitioner for 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and cannot simply turn off that status at the end of a day’s work or shift,” he said.

“They occupy a high status in the community and remain in the public eye. The widespread use of social media has resulted in even greater public scrutiny on healthcare professionals, making it imperative doctors maintain high standards.”

Dr Neil Paul, a Cheshire GP and EHI Primary Care columnist, said that he has one golden rule: “Act at all times as if my mum was present.”

He added: “ She wouldn’t mind me having fun having a drink, but she would disapprove of me wearing a clown costume and stealing a road cone to wear on my head. I certainly wouldn’t be keen on a photo of such appearing on Facebook.”

Posting pictures of festive nights out might seem like fun and a harmless act, but MDDUS warns that doctors need to think about who can access those pictures.

MDDUS has dealt with a growing number of calls on these issues, ranging from inappropriate comments made by patients to more serious issues of online hate campaigns.

“Doctors can be vulnerable to complaints even if they do not have any patients as Facebook friends,” Dr Rodger said.

“Failure to maintain high standards of conduct and personal behaviour by doctors brings the profession in general into disrepute and thus undermines the trust that the public bestows on doctors.”

He added that he’s not against doctors enjoying their nights out: “This does not mean that doctors can have no relaxed or anonymous social life and must remain indoors, abstemious and not go to Christmas parties, outings or festivals.

“However, their behaviour at social gatherings such as the Christmas work night can impact on the way that the public and patients view them and in turn view the wider profession.”