Ask the expert: Can a practice employee also be a patient?

Q. A prospective employee is registered as a patient at our practice. Should we ask her to register at another practice as a condition of the job offer or does she have the right to be both a patient and a member of the practice staff?

A. It’s an interesting question and one we get asked frequently. If an employee is also a patient at the practice where they are employed, it can cause a myriad of problems.

We would advise you to inform all prospective employees at the interview stage that the successful candidate would be required to register as a patient at another practice. The only exemption to this would be if your practice was in a remote setting and there were no viable alternatives available.

As part of the conditions of employment, this information should be included as a policy in your employee handbook.

There are potential conflicts of interest that can arise if an employee is a patient at the practice. The doctor-patient relationship should be kept separate and it is in the best interests of all patients to have access to independent and objective care.

For example, employees may be embarrassed to share important information with their doctor at the same practice.

Treating someone they know can also put doctors in a difficult position and patient care can be compromised. GMC guidance states doctors should “wherever possible avoid providing medical care to yourself or anyone with whom you have a close personal relationship.”

For current staff, you can ask them to move to another practice but there is no obligation for them to do so. This process should be handled sensitively as the employee may have been a patient at the practice for a number of years.

Explaining the reasons and potential conflicts with the member of staff will hopefully help them understand why it is in their best interests.

To conclude, it is best if new employees are asked to register as a patient at another practice where possible to avoid any potential conflicts.