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GPs should decline Valentine’s Day gifts and cards, say legal advisers

Medico-legal advisers say GPs should decline offers of Valentine’s Day gifts or cards from their patients.

Medical Protection said this comes as around one in ten doctors have been put in this situation in the past.

In all, 336 GPs and consultants in the UK responded to a survey by Medical Protection from 9-12 February 2017. Of these 9.23% said they had received a Valentine’s Day card or gift during their careers.

Medical Protection advised that whilst on a regular day of the year doctors should consider the appropriateness of the card or gift, its value and potential impact on the doctor-patient relationship, on 14 February they should take more stringent care.

Dr Helen Hartley, medico-legal adviser at Medical Protection, said: ‘Doctors can often be offered cards and small gifts from patients as tokens of gratitude for the care they have received… But a gift or card on Valentine’s Day – while it may still be innocent – makes things more complicated and potentially embarrassing.

‘We all know a Valentine’s Day card or gift, while sometimes anonymous, is usually an expression of someone’s affection, or romantic – even passionate – feelings.

‘This is obviously not an appropriate basis for a doctor patient relationship, and doctors who find they are the object of a patient’s affection should take care to avoid any action that could be seen to encourage the patient.’

She said that ‘where appropriate doctors should politely decline a Valentine’s Day card or gift’ and also ‘adopt a more formal manner and remind patients of their duty as their doctor and the professional boundaries that must be protected in order for the patient to receive quality, impartial care’.

The conversation ‘can be documented and discussed with a colleague, including whether care should be transferred to another doctor if there are further advances’, she added.

Medical Protection further suggested the GP should consider whether the advances from the patient is a symptom of mental health problems, loneliness and poor relationships and whether they could be in need of psychiatric support.