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Promoting and maintaining public confidence in the medical profession

What were the key findings?

  • The public are confident in the medical profession, with 87% of respondents agreeing or agreeing strongly that 'the majority of doctors can be trusted to do a good job'. Such confidence is primarily based on individual healthcare experience, with knowledge and understanding of regulation relatively limited.
  • When considering how the GMC should respond to clinical errors, public reactions were strongly influenced by patient outcomes - the public struggle to distinguish between the seriousness of a result and the seriousness of a mistake. However, even where a mistake results in a patient's death, the public do not automatically expect a doctor to be struck off.
  • A conviction for gross negligence manslaughter or culpable homicide results in a hardening of attitudes. A suspended sentence, though, was taken as evidence that mitigating factors were present.
  • For most members of the public, there were two main requirements for a clinical error to be considered criminal. The act needs be intentional, deliberate or reckless and the effect needs to be an outcome of grave and lasting harm or death.
  • The public does not automatically expect GMC action when a doctor commits a criminal offence outside of the workplace, with the key consideration being whether the doctor has intentionally harmed someone.
  • Attitudes on the extent to which professionalism from doctors is expected outside of the workplace were divided, with differing views expressed about whether this should be a concern for the GMC.   

Why did we commission this research?

The research supports the independent review of gross negligence manslaughter and culpable homicide. One focus of the review was on “[t]he meaning, appropriateness and measurement of ‘public confidence’ as an objective of the regulatory process.” The terms of reference for the review state that this “will include understanding patient and public expectations of regulatory processes after a practitioner has been convicted of a criminal offence.” The research explored these issues to inform the review.

What did the research involve?

  • Eleven face-to-face and three online focus groups
  • Online survey with a nationally representative sample of 2,074 members of the public across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scenarios were used to explore public views.   

Full report

Promoting and maintaining public confidence in the medical profession