Exercise caution with patient gifts to avoid flouting bribery laws, GPs warned

GPs should exercise caution and keep a record of any gifts from patients to avoid legal problems, medical defence experts have warned, after the government announced stricter rules on industry gifts.

GPs should keep robust records of all gifts offered and received by patients and consider carefully whether to accept them, UK-wide group Medical and Dental Defence Union Scotland (MDDUS) said, after the government announced the 'sunshine rule' in August.

The sunshine rule, which will come into effect next year, dictates that doctors and other NHS staff must declare any gifts, payments or hospitality received from pharmaceutical companies.

Under the stricter measures, any staff member that fails to do so could face action under the Bribery Act 2010, which makes it a criminal offence to offer financial or other advantages with the aim of inducing a person to perform an ‘action improperly’.

At its most severe, people flouting this law could face unlimited fines or a 10-year prison sentence.

GPs should act now and extend this practice to gifts received by patients to help avoid future legal problems, MDDUS urged.

Patient gifts

MDDUS medical adviser Dr Naeem Nazem warned that doctors should ‘consider carefully’ whether they are altering their relationship with a patient by accepting a gift.

‘The new government measures are in relation to gifts from pharmaceutical representatives and medical device makers. However, we would urge all doctors to adopt the spirit of the legislation and also keep a register of gifts from patients,’ he said.

‘In the interests of being open and honest and to avoid any perception of bias, all practices should already have a policy on accepting gifts. As part of that policy, there should be a gift register which can be made available to the CCG – or health board in Scotland – at their request.

‘It is important for doctors to discuss any gift they are given with their colleagues and to declare them in accordance with local policy. They should also make it clear to patients that gifts are not expected and do not influence the level of clinical care provided.’

GMC guidance states that doctors ‘must not ask for or accept any inducement, gift or hospitality that may affect or be seen to affect the way you prescribe for, treat or refer patients’.

Photo: JH Lancy

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