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Practice dilemma: Local practice trying to poach patients

Your practice shares a surgery building with another practice, which has started sending mailshots to established housing estates in the hope of attracting some of your patients. You are angry about this and contact a medical defence body to ask whether your rival is acting unethically and can be stopped.

Your practice shares a surgery building with another practice, which has started sending mailshots to established housing estates in the hope of attracting some of your patients. You are angry about this and contact a medical defence body to ask whether your rival is acting unethically and can be stopped.

Medical defence bodies would normally advise as a matter of courtesy that practices only send mailshots to new housing estates, where residents may not be aware of the existence of local GP services. But practices are entitled to contact any group of potential patients, provided they stick to guidelines.

These are set out by the BMA and in the GMC's Good Medical Practice, which states: ‘If you publish information about your medical services, you must make sure the information is factual and verifiable.

‘You must not make unjustifiable claims about the quality or outcomes of your services in any information you provide to patients. It must not offer guarantees of cures, nor exploit patients' vulnerability or lack of medical knowledge.

‘You must not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill-founded fears for their future health.'

Any correspondence with the practice about its mailshots must be very carefully worded and avoid unfounded accusations about its actions.

Dr Anthea Martin is a senior medical adviser at the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland

Dr Anthea Martin is a senior medical adviser at the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland MDDUS

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