Advice line: when does accepting a gift become a problem?

While we all like to be appreciated for our efforts, when does accepting a gift become a problem, asks Pip White.

It is important that your professional judgment is seen to be based on your professional opinion alone. It should not be influenced by incentives or inducements to provide any particular form of treatment or to use a particular product. 
Your employer may already have a policy on receiving gifts, and may already have a ‘hospitality register’ setting out the types of gifts that must be logged. If your employer or practice does not already have a policy, what are the key topics to consider?
Many patients voice their gratitude for good care but some want to go further. Gifts come in an endless variety, but when cash, vouchers or bequests in wills are offered, then they need to be considered carefully.
Gifts from suppliers and companies are unlikely to be acceptable as there is more scope for these to be perceived to interfere with your independent professional judgment. Small promotional items such as pens and tape measures aren’t a problem, and accepting sandwiches during a break at an educational event should not be problematic. But anything beyond that could be. 
The pharmaceutical industry already has an open disclosure policy whereby payments from any drug company to a clinician is publicly disclosed unless the clinician objects to their personal details being published.
NHS England has issued a set of principles on what NHS staff in England can and can’t accept.  See their website here.   
This states, for example, that gifts from patients up to the value of £25 may be accepted and need not be declared. Gifts over this amount can be accepted but must be declared. Those from suppliers, or potential suppliers, should be declined, with the exception of promotional items of minor value (less than £5). These can be accepted and need not be declared.
Still, it’s worth remembering that there is no rule against accepting a pat on the back for a job well done.
  • Pip White is a CSP professional adviser.
Pip White CSP professional adviser

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