News Roundup

Poll shows public still has trust in doctors

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 24 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:694
  1. Annabel Ferriman
  1. BMJ

    Trust in doctors does not seem to have been dented by the recent poor publicity that they have received over the Bristol surgery inquiry and the reports about the retention of body parts at Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool.

    A new poll by the independent research agency MORI of almost 2000 adults, commissioned by the BMA, shows that the public trusts doctors to tell the truth more than any other group, including teachers, judges, and clergymen. Eighty nine per cent of the respondents thought that doctors told the truth, compared with 86% for teachers, 78% for judges and clergymen, 18% for journalists, and 17% for politicians.

    Similarly, satisfaction with doctors remains high. The same proportion of the public (89%) said they were either very satisfied (36%) or fairly satisfied (53%) with the way doctors did their jobs. Only nurses scored more highly, with 95% of respondents saying that they were either very satisfied (54%) or fairly satisfied (41%). Dentists and teachers came third and fourth, with 84% and 82% respectively expressing satisfaction.

    The scores compare well with last year's poll. Trust in doctors has risen by two percentage points, though the proportion of those saying they are very satisfied has fallen by five percentage points. Overall satisfaction last year was 90% (89% this year).

    Even when reminded of medical controversies such as the Bristol inquiry or the report on organ retention at Alder Hey Hospital, 84% of the public still said that doctors are doing their job well.

    Commenting on the opinion poll, Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA, said: “I am delighted with the results of the poll. It shows that you should trust the public to make mature judgments based on their own experience. Patients read about high profile cases, and they want action taken against individual bad doctors, but they do not make false links between very different kinds of problems, and they know that doctors are doing a good job in difficult circumstances.”

    The poll brings a warning to doctors, however, to pay attention to patients' feelings. Thirty five per cent of respondents thought that doctors pay too little attention to feelings, but 43% disagreed and 19% were undecided. Hospitals (as institutions) fare worse than doctors, with 59% of respondents saying that those who run hospitals pay too little attention to the rights and feelings of patients.

    Most respondents (54%) believed that they need to see a hospital consultant, rather than someone less senior, to get the best treatment. Only a quarter of the public (26%) believed that doctors have too much power over patients, compared with nearly half (47%) who disagreed. For less serious medical conditions, people were happy to deal with a nurse rather than a doctor (85% v 9%).

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