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Independents' Day

Gifts at Christmas

Festive treats from patients remind Dr Jane Cumming of her place in life.

Festive treats from patients remind Dr Jane Cumming of her place in life.

Dr Jane Cumming receives a copy of Dr Phil Hammond's latest DVD, Dr Phil's Rude Health Show.

As a young, naive GP in my first Christmas at the practice,my senior partner rather gloatingly asked me ‘have you had many Christmas gifts from patients'. I diffidently replied that I hadn't and he tutted to himself and walked away.

Later, I ventured into his room. The sight that met me filled me with surprise. Almost every available surface in his consulting room was covered with wrapped Christmas gifts coming in all shapes and sizes. There was hardly any room for the patient let alone one who dared to enter empty handed. The gifts appeared to jostle for space with the sphygmomanometer and the stethoscope. The BNF and MIMS were unceremoniously dumped on the floor to make yet more space for gifts.

How could one doctor attract so many presents? Did he keep the gifts from previous years to bring out at the end of November to act as a reminder for his regulars, I wondered?

Could the gifts be dummy presents like you see in department store Christmas displays? I never dared to open one to find out. As the years rolled on and I gathered an ever growing loyal flock of patients, my collection of Christmas gifts grew too. I had biscuits from dear old Mrs Smith with her arthritic knees, Chilean Merlot from Mr Jones who had once lived in South America, chocolates they could barely afford from the ever-expanding Brown family. Christmas gifts appeared with such regularity that I could reliably miss things off my Christmas shopping list knowing that they would later appear as gifts. I followed my senior partner's approach and left the wrapped gifts on display for all to see. It felt like a cabinet display of medals and awards extolling my skills as a doctor. The silent competition between the partners grew with the ever-increasing displays of Christmas gifts. The new salaried GP could only look at our collections of gifts in awe.

Now I have left the practice, and the patients who mourned my departure have moved on to new GPs. The patients who said they could not cope without me are thriving as new doctor-patient relationships are formed.

This year, as I sit by the Christmas tree, I wonder who will be eating my biscuits and chocolates this year. Who, while drinking a glass of smooth red wine on Christmas day will recall Mr Jones's tales of his South American adventures.

Are the presents lined up on display in my old consulting room or is this in breach of a new PCT ruling? Has the PCT gift log been fully completed?

I always felt a little uneasy about the Christmas gifts and whether I really deserved them. Did it influence my relationship with the patients? The patients who brought the gifts seemed truly grateful and I was frequently humbled by their generosity. I always meant to write thank you letters but somehow the paperwork got in the way. I did my best to thank the patients when I next saw them and I recall Mrs Smith who trudged through the snow on Christmas Eve with my Christmas biscuits. ‘You really shouldn't spoil me' I said.

Her reply: ‘Oh but I like to thank the people who help me - you and the dustmen.'

I always knew my place.

Dr Jane Cumming

Visit for details of Dr Hammond's upcoming tour dates.

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