Regulating doctors, ensuring good medical practice

The standards expected of doctors: Patient & public attitudes


Good Medical Practice is the GMC’s core guidance for doctors. It sets out the values and principles on which good practice is founded. Good Medical Practice (GMP) is reviewed approximately every five years to keep up to date with changes in the law and general social attitudes, and to ensure it remains relevant to the current healthcare environment.

We recently completed a review of GMP 2006 and published a new edition on 25 March 2013. To inform the review we commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) to explore changes in public attitudes to the standards expected of doctors in key areas of practice. The research involved focus groups and a number of one-to-one interviews gathering views from older people, young adults and ‘seldom heard’ groups such as homeless people, Gypsy and traveller communities, and refugee and asylum seekers. Using case scenarios, participants were asked to explore a number of ethical issues including questions about getting access to care, doctors’ personal beliefs and professional boundaries.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Participants’ central concern that doctors should provide the medical treatment or advice that a patient needs in a safe and consistent way, and that doctors have a role to play in supporting patients in difficult circumstances to access healthcare services. Good communication and listening to patients were seen as crucial to this. Other issues were seen as important to the extent that they impacted on a doctor’s ability to provide the medical treatment or advice that patients needs.
  • In general doctors were expected to leave their personal beliefs ‘at the door’, providing treatment or advice in a non-judgemental way and not allowing their views to interfere with the treatment or care provided. It was recognised that some personal beliefs could impact on patient care, such as doctors’ views on abortion. There were mixed views about how this should be dealt with. Those who opposed abortion felt that doctors should have the right to refer such cases to their colleagues. Other participants regarded providing such procedures as a requirement of a doctor’s role.
  • Doctors were seen as having a right to privacy but were expected to maintain a dividing line between their public and private lives. However, criminal behaviour by doctors was considered significant, whether or not it impacted on patient care, because it could undermine patient’s trust in doctors. Participants also expected employers to support doctors in difficulty in their personal life, to avoid the issues affecting them to the point where patient care would suffer.
  • If a doctor has financial interests that might present a conflict of interest, the research participants felt that the doctor must declare this interest and this would be sufficient as long as patient care wasn’t affected.

Full Report

The standards expected of doctors: Patient & public attitudes (pdf)

Published 22nd April 2013