Every now and then, a practice might be fortunate enough to be remembered in a patient’s Will or to receive gifts from grateful patients. Research has shown that the proffering of small gifts is relatively common place. Whilst it is obviously nice to be recognised for one’s good work, it does give rise to a number of professional and legal issues.
Good Medical Practice Guidance states that “You must not encourage patients to give, lend or bequeath money or gifts that will directly or indirectly benefit you.” However you “may accept unsolicited gifts from patients or their relatives” provided that it doesn’t affect the treatment you provide.
Whilst this appears to permit the receipt of unsolicited gifts and legacies, there is a big caveat. In each case, you must “also consider the potential damage this could cause to your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession. You should refuse gifts or bequests where they could be perceived as an abuse of trust.” This is clearly a judgmental matter which will be easier to balance for a box of chocolates than for a £100k legacy.
The PMS and GMS Regulations are clear that practices must keep a register of gifts from patients or their relatives that have a value of £100 or more. You should record the name, the NHS number or address of the donor, the nature of the gift, its estimated value and the name of the recipient.
The next question which arises is how should the gift or legacy be shared?
To determine the answer to this question, you need to look at both the gift or legacy itself and the partnership deed.
For example, a legacy may be left ‘to the partners at the XXX Surgery’. So has the gift been left to the GP partners individually in equal shares, or left to the partnership to be divided between the partners in their respective profit sharing ratios? Was it intended for the partners in the practice at the time the Will was written, at the time of death or when the legacy is actually received? Alternatively, is it actually intended for the benefit of the patients and therefore shouldn’t be taken as income at all, but rather invested in healthcare within the practice area? Sometimes the intended purpose is clear because the donor has perhaps left a letter of wishes stating how they want the money to be spent or shared. Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case and a large legacy can often be a source of dispute between the partners.
Practices need to be careful about what gifts and legacies they accept and how these are recorded. The larger the gift, the more care needs to be taken.
Remember that this is, at heart, an ethical issue and whatever decision you make, would you be comfortable in justifying it in front of the GMC, or perhaps even a journalist?
For larger gifts and legacies, in addition to recording them in the gift register, we would recommend that you prepare a paper trail setting out your thinking behind the decision you took and any professional advice that you sought.
You would also be well advised to check what your partnership deed has to say about sharing of gifts and legacies to minimise the risk of future partnership disputes.
If you have any queries relating to legacies and gifts, or any other matter, then please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 or email [email protected]