NHS England publish new guidelines on tackling conflicts of interest

NHS England is publishing new guidelines today that will strengthen the management of conflicts of interest and ensure that the NHS is a world leader for transparent and accountable healthcare.

The guidance will permit staff, such as nurses, to receive a box of chocolates or other small tokens of gratitude from patients but will require them to decline anything that could be seen to affect their professional judgement. Gifts with a value over £50, accepted on behalf of organisations, will need to be declared. It will also be standard practice for NHS commitments to take precedence over private practice, and for any member of staff – clinical or non-clinical – to declare outside employment and the details of where and when this takes place although not earnings at this stage.

In September last year NHS England launched a six-week consultation for all interested parties to make their voices heard about proposals which cover 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 the NHS England board meeting today, will reflect the feedback received and if endorsed, the policy will  come into force on June 1.

Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman 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.

“We have invited comment from the public, patients, NHS staff and other stakeholders on our proposals and have acted on what they have told us. 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.”

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said: “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.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The relationship between GPs and our patients is unique, and it’s important to preserve this.

“GPs are well aware of the importance of transparency when they receive gifts from patients or organisations, and already follow robust guidance to ensure potential conflicts of interest are properly managed. But further information so that GPs and our teams are absolutely clear about what is appropriate will be useful.”

In March 2016, NHS England set up a collaborative group to look into developing a stronger approach to managing conflicts of interest, both real and perceived. Drawing on expertise from a wide range of organisations, the group was led by Sir Malcolm Grant, Chair of NHS England and included representatives from the British Medical Journal, NICE, the Care Quality Commission, the Local Government Association and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

The final guidance covers a range of measures, including:

  • Setting consistent and clear minimum standards and clear guidelines for when staff should declare gifts and hospitality
  • Requiring organisations to make registers of interests available for public scrutiny
  • Underlining NHS England’s support for the Disclosure UK scheme, which publishes details of payments made to staff by the pharmaceutical industry

NHS bodies have worked together to finalise the guidance and will now ensure effective implementation of the plans. While the revised guidance applies to NHS bodies, it is commended for use by private sector, contractor and not-for profit organisations.

For more information please see our ‘Managing Conflicts of Interest in the NHS’ pages.