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When is a patient legally 'yours'?

QAt what point does a patient actually become legally registered with the practice ­ when they sign the application or when I do?

AThere is a clear distinction between a patient being 'registered' and being 'accepted' on a GP's list. Registration is what happens when an NHS authority receives details of a patient's acceptance from a GP and updates its database.

Acceptance, by contrast, is something that happens in the practice. Though formal acceptance may occur at the point when the second of two signatures have been placed on an acceptance document, the absence of such signatures does not mean that no responsibility has been acquired prior to that point.

Paragraph four of the terms of service defines a GP's patients as including those whom he or she has accepted or 'agreed to accept'.

This means a GP's responsibilities can commence at the point of a casual verbal agreement to accept the patient.

In principle, such an agreement might be valid even if that verbal agreement is made by a GP's 'agent', such as a receptionist, rather than by the GP personally.

Steve Ainsworth is a management consultant specialising in the NHS and general practice, and is a former FHSA director

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