A probe into alleged abuse of a computer messaging system has placed some Airedale Hospital staff in fear for their jobs, a whistleblower claims.

A far-reaching investigation into how some staff sent rude, defamatory or trivial remarks via the in-house ‘System 1’ is currently under way.

The source claimed some of the 348 admin staff involved had already been told they would certainly receive written warnings, and could possibly even lose their jobs.

The hospital in Steeton did not put a precise figure on the number of staff affected, but did not dispute the figure put forward by the whistleblower.

One worried worker said those caught in the spotlight were now under “huge and unnecessary stress”.

“It kicked off on November 25 last year when all Airedale staff – consultants, clinicians and admin – were summoned to a meeting in the conference room of the Education Centre.

“There was a PowerPoint presentation showing some messages sent using System 1. One of the sent messages simply read ‘bored’ and others contained swearing and profanities.

“We were all told this was misuse of the system and it could lead to disciplinary proceedings.

“It was a complete shock to everyone. But that threat has only been carried out to admin staff.

“They were written to and some are now having formal disciplinary meetings,” said the source, who explained the background.

“Basically, In November 2012, someone happened upon this System 1 – an instant messaging service within the hospital computer network. A manager was asked if staff could use it and that was granted, on the condition patients’ details were never sent.

“Word got round and soon everyone was using it in the belief they were only instant messages that were not saved or seen by anyone else.

“It was helpful for work, but also people would send things like “Going to shop for a Twix, want anything?” or “When u at lunch?” – things like that.

“No-one ever breached patient confidentiality on System 1, to my knowledge. Then, suddenly, there we all were being told it was a serious disciplinary matter,” he said. “It feels as if we’ve been caught by the secret police.”

Stacey Hunter, director of operations at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The trust takes its responsibilities to ensure its information systems are used appropriately very seriously, and advises all staff that communications should not be sent that could be considered to be abusive, defamatory or profane.

“Concerns were raised and checks were carried out in both clinical and administration areas about the use of an internal messaging system, and a number of administration staff were written to individually, before Christmas, to confirm whether or not any further action would be taken.

“Following the checks, a small number of staff are attending further meetings regarding their use of the system.

“In line with all NHS organisations that are responsible for handing sensitive and confidential information, we have strict IT and information governance policies, which all our staff agree to follow when they join us as an employee, as well as the ability to audit any of our systems.

“I would like to reassure patients this is an internal system, and no patient information was affected.”