Terror victims warned: beware of social media trolls

A leading surgeon has warned of social media trolls preying on terror attack victims following lessons learned from recent atrocities.

This comes as NHS England prepares to issue new social media guidance to support patients and their families alongside NHS staff.

Professor Chris Moran, NHS England’s clinical lead for trauma, is set to tell a major health conference in Manchester next week that people injured or affected by terrorism or traumatic events should be alerted to the risks of using social media.

Learning lessons from recent terror attacks, new social media guidance will now be issued by NHS England through the country’s Major Trauma Networks to support staff, patients and their families – it also includes specific advice for younger people.

Professor Moran said: “Social media can play both a positive and negative role in the aftermath of a terrorist incident. At the most extreme end, we’ve seen from recent atrocities in Manchester and London that innocent people have unwittingly been the target of trolls who use social media to prey on victims subjecting them to vile and upsetting abuse. These are individuals who are often in a deep state of shock.

“In the aftermath of the Arena nail bomb attack, trolls were reported by a number of doctors and it was the teenagers who were impacted. All patient details presented at the meetings were kept anonymous for obvious reasons.

“Positively, staff in Manchester were alerted quickly and got to their hospitals before a major incident was even declared. This real-time reporting helped NHS staff anticipate injuries, numbers of casualties and what they would be dealing with. Learning lessons from recent incidents, we have developed practical guidance that we hope will support our staff and patients at these exceptionally difficult times.”

Professor Moran also repeated police warnings that people using social media should be careful not post anything that could inadvertently be of use to terrorists carrying out these atrocities.

Speaking at Manchester Central, a mile from the arena where 22 innocent people died in a blast at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in May, Professor Moran will set out the vital lessons learned by the NHS from debrief sessions after the terror attack in the city earlier this year, including:

  • A series of clinical meetings were held within 24 hours of the tragic events and early  debriefing involved more than 400 front-line clinical staff from right across the system, from medics on the scene to the mortuary team. Many lessons were learned as a result of these important meetings, and some changes were already in place before the terror attack at London Bridge.
  • How essential it is to practice and prepare for major incidents. All teams reported that rehearsals and desk-top exercises had made it easier on the night when performing for real. Coincidentally, Manchester had done this across the whole system just a few weeks before and it made a big difference. It underlines how the NHS must continue to invest in training and education for these emergencies.
  • The impact of a bomb attack such as in Manchester has an effect on hospitals that goes beyond day one. The NHS performed more than 400 hours of surgery on Manchester patients in the following week alone. This meant continued need for blood supplies and pressure on intensive care units. Some patients were still in hospital months later.
  • There is significant physical, psychological and emotional impact on staff and the careful reuniting of injured families is essential.
  • A bereavement service in Manchester was used for the first time ever in a major incident with mass casualties, and how it can act as an example of best practice to the rest of the country, with close collaboration between the NHS, Coroner and Police to provide care for bereaved families.

Professor Moran will also outline the best use of Major Trauma Networks to allow patients recovery time and to get the specialist surgery they require.