Future Healthcare

Beware of gifts

The apparently simple act of a patient giving a gift to a doctor to thank them for their care can have unexpected repercussions for the doctor-patient relationship.

Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury explores the ethical arguments and looks at how a busy practitioner can negotiate this act without causing embarrassment or prompting a loss of trust.

white box with luxury watch on white background

Gifts may not always be as straightforward as flowers, wine or a piece of jewellery. They can also come disguised as a discount on a new car, or the offer of a weekend stay in a Cotswolds cottage.

One side of the argument is that doctors should never accept gifts because they can influence the standard of care and weaken the fiduciary relationship.

This view is supported by the case of Dr Peter Rowan, a psychiatrist who accepted a £1.2m legacy and £150,000 in cheques from a patient.

In the course of treatment, he had prescribed excessive doses of benzodiazepines and not communicated with other doctors involved in the patient’s care.

The GMC’s Fitness to Practise panel erased Dr Rowan from the Medical Register in 2011, saying his judgement had been clouded by accepting substantial amounts of money, and expressed concern that he had not appreciated or considered the inappropriateness of accepting such gifts.