Gifts and thank you messages from patients provide morale boost to doctors, MDU survey finds

Despite the pressures currently facing the NHS, three quarters of doctors reported receiving gifts and thank you messages from patients, according to a survey by the Medical Defence Union (MDU).

The MDU survey of over 400 doctors found that 75% had received a gift or thank you message from a patient over the past year. The most common gifts were chocolates which 41% of respondents received followed by flowers and alcohol (10% each). The more unusual presents included a home grown cabbage, dog toys and tickets for a day out at a horse sanctuary.

Updated guidance from the GMC on managing conflicts of interest when receiving gifts is coming into force at the end of January as part of more detailed guidance on Good Medical Practice. It advises doctors not to accept any gift that might affect the way they treat patients and to consider the impact on their professional responsibilities.

Dr Udvitha Nandasoma, MDU head of advisory services said:

“It’s heartening to know that patients are choosing to show appreciation for the care they’ve received from healthcare professionals. With cost of living pressures, doctors don’t expect to receive gifts or thanks and most explained they get as much satisfaction from doing a good job. However, a thank you from a patient can be a morale booster. As one doctor told us: ‘It means a lot to be thanked, that’s not what we do the job for, but it helps!’

“Most clinicians (85%) had no concerns about motives for gift giving with only a small number being concerned a gift may breach professional boundaries (7%) or that patients may be trying to influence a decision (6%). Nevertheless, healthcare professionals need to ensure gifts don’t raise ethical issues.

“We recommend members don’t accept expensive gifts and keep a register of all gifts received in case they need to justify them later. Nearly half of respondents (44%) said their workplace had a register, while two fifths weren’t sure (40%) and a minority (16%) didn’t keep a record.”

In other results from the survey more than half (59%) of doctors said they were as likely to receive a gift now as before the pandemic, whereas a third (35%) said gifts were less likely now.

The survey also found that 64% of medical professionals were working over the festive period with a quarter of those (26%) working on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

The MDU surveyed a sample of medical professionals in December 2023 with the 411 respondents representing a 6% response rate. Respondents included consultants/specialists (31%), GPs/GP trainees (29%), specialty/career grade doctors (30%) and foundation doctors (10%).