Ethics & law
Should doctors accept gifts from patients?
Large gifts can raise conflicts of interest
- By: Julian Sheather
In 2011 Huguette M Clark, a reclusive copper heiress died, leaving her nurse $30m (£18.6m; €23m) in her will; she also left her doctor $100 000. Should they have accepted the money? Large bequests of this kind raise two questions. The first is whether doctors and other health professionals can accept such gifts or bequests; the second is whether they should.
In the UK, the first question can be quite easily dealt with. NHS employees are not allowed to accept substantial gifts from patients and there the matter rests: small gifts of pens or diaries, insubstantial tokens of gratitude are fine, but the sums of money involved must be insignificant—£25 is the ordinary ceiling.1 Doctors who are not directly employed by the NHS, such as GPs—it is not always realised that GPs are contractors to the NHS, not employees—and doctors in private practice, can accept gifts or bequests without limit to