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New rules for NHS staff on receiving gifts and declaring private work payments

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Health service nurses will be able to receive “small tokens of gratitude” from patients but must declare details of any non-NHS work they undertake, according to new rules on conflicts of interest.

NHS England has published new guidelines today on managing conflicts of interest, which are designed to ensure that the NHS is a “world leader for transparent and accountable healthcare”.

“This new guidance will bring a consistent approach to conflicts of interest”

Malcolm Grant

Nurses can receive a box of chocolates or other small tokens of gratitude from patients but must decline anything that could be seen to affect their professional judgement, under the guidelines – titled Managing Conflicts of Interest in the NHS.

It states that modest gifts accepted under a value of £50 do not need to be declared, but gifts of cash and vouchers to individuals should always be declined.

Gifts valued at over £50 should be “treated with caution” and only be accepted on behalf of an organisation, not in a personal capacity, and should be declared by staff.

Multiple gifts from the same source over a 12-month period should be treated in the same way as single gifts over £50, where the cumulative value exceeds £50.

However, gifts from suppliers or contractors doing business with an organisation should be declined, whatever their value.

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But low cost branded promotional aids may be accepted where they are under the value of a common industry standard of £6 in total, and need not be declared, according to the guidance.

Meanwhile, the guidance also covers hospitality – including accommodation, refreshment and travel – and employment outside of the NHS.

For example, it will also become standard practice for NHS commitments to take precedence over private practice for health service staff that work across both sectors.

As a result, any member of NHS staff – clinical or non-clinical – will be required to declare outside employment and the details of where and when this takes place, although not earnings at this stage.

This requirement will include any additional advisory work that nurses may undertake for the pharmaceutical industry.

In September last year, NHS England launched a six-week consultation for all interested parties to make their voices heard about proposals covering gifts, hospitality, outside employment and private practice, sponsorship and other interests.

The proposals were bench marked against best practice in other industries. The new guidance, discussed at an NHS England board meeting on Thursday, will come into force on 1 June.

Malcolm Grant

Malcolm Grant

Malcolm Grant

Sir Malcolm Grant, chair of NHS England, said: “The public rightly expects NHS staff to behave appropriately and use the healthcare budget to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

“While behaviour is exemplary in virtually all instances, there are times when more could have been done to prevent standards slipping,” he said.

“This new guidance will bring a consistent approach to conflicts of interest and ensure that the public can have faith in the integrity of the NHS,” said Sir Malcolm.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, added: “We welcome these guidelines and recognise the need to bring greater coherence and consistency to how the health service handles conflicts and potential conflicts of interest.”

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