Weapons, toasters or fish: what gift will a patient give you today?

A token of gratitude is always welcome – but check whether it may compromise your role

A token of gratitude is always welcome – but check whether it may compromise your role

Picture: iStock

North Korean weaponry, alien ornaments and nine fresh mackerel are just some of the weird and wonderful gifts that nurses and other NHS staff have received from the public in recent years.

These items, and many more, were revealed in a Nursing Standard investigation, which found that NHS nurses declared 335 gifts – worth almost £30,000 in total – from January 2016 to October 2018.


of all gift items recorded were either cash or gift cards – making these the most popular gifts to give nurses

The data were gathered from the gift registers of 148 UK trusts and health boards, which had responded to freedom of information (FOI) requests.

Mixed blessings

One nurse received an art piece described in the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust gift register as an ‘alien/baby ornament’.

Another nurse, from Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, received 12 bottles of red wine from the mother of a patient, while a team of nurses in Greater Manchester celebrated with a toast of a different kind – they were given a new toaster by a patient.

And it wasn’t just nurses who received items – in one unusual incident, a hospital manager at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust was the recipient of silver imitation ceremonial weaponry, which was given by a ‘North Korean VIP visiting for a language course in 2016’.


of items given were either food and drink, while 7% was jewellery

Will power

Of the £29,973.15 worth of declared gifts given to nurses, nearly a third came from just three instances in which nurses were left large sums of money in wills.

In one instance, a group of five nurses at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust’s Barnard Health Centre each received £1,000 in February 2017, but the motivation for the payment remains a mystery.

A trust spokesperson confirmed that the will in which the payment was bequeathed was created in 2001, and there was no evidence that the benefactor had ever been a patient at the health centre.

Showing gratitude

Regardless of the bequest’s origin, the trust’s director of nursing Jane Wells says it demonstrates the impact that nurses can have on a person.

‘The individual may have had some connection with nursing services in the past, which she wanted to commemorate, or it could have been a random act of kindness,’ she says.

‘However, care offered by nurses must have had a positive impact on the individual at some time in her life, which is heart-warming.’

The two other will payments, for £3,000 and £1,000, were received by individual nurses in Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust respectively.

What to do if you are named in a patient’s will

Legal expert Marc Cornock advises on what to do if a patient offers to put you in their will, or you receive cash or a valuable item as part of a bequest.

If a patient says they’re going to leave you something in their will

  • Explain to them that as a professional this may be seen to compromise your position
  • Inform your employer and ask for their guidance

If you receive cash or a valuable item as part of a will

  • Consult your employer’s policy on accepting gifts. Does it allow you to accept gifts? If not, you have to refuse the gift
  • Consider the NMC code of conduct. Paragraph 21.1 is the relevant part – will accepting the gift compromise your position? You need to consider the value of the gift and the reason it was given. Anything above £50 is seen as problematic by the NMC because it is not a trivial gift. The council also warns that a gift may be a payment or bribe for services; provided it can be demonstrated that this is not the case, there should be no problem

General advice on receiving gifts

  • Always inform your manager/employer of the gift. Some employers require you to record gifts; others require monetary gifts to be accepted by the organisation rather than individual nurses
  • Ensure that accepting the gift does not compromise you as a nurse, or could be seen as compromising your professional status

Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University


The lowest value gift recorded by a nurse in the FOI data was a £1.20 box of Maltesers chocolates given at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. This trust recorded the highest number of gift declarations by nurses in the FOI data period, with 28 individual gifts received. Most of these were confectionery, and a trust spokesperson says this is not a problem.

‘Our staff are always humbled when patients give them a small gift to thank them for the treatment and support they have received,’ the spokesperson says. ‘There certainly seems to have been a large number of sweet treats offered, but even with our emphasis on health and well-being – for colleagues as well as service users – we’ve no plans on insisting they only accept donations of fruit and vegetables.’

Working at Christmas

An RCN spokesperson says nurses appreciate any gifts from patients, especially during the festive period. ‘It’s commendable, in the run-up to Christmas, that many people want to show their appreciation with a gift, knowing that many nurses will spend Christmas Day in work rather than round the dinner table with their families,’ the spokesperson says.


Just over 40% of the gifts recorded had a value exceeding £50

However, the college urges generous members of the public to consider the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code of conduct, and NHS trust and health board policies, which nurses must follow.

‘We would ask anyone who has bought a gift for NHS staff to not be offended if nurses feel that it’s best to politely decline anything that might be considered more than trivial.’

Most trusts and health boards in the UK require their staff to record gifts of a ‘non-trivial value’ – usually anything above £50.

Cash offered by patients almost always has to be declined and either returned or offered to a charitable cause.

Further information

In other news

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.