We commissioned this research to help us gauge the levels of awareness of the role of professional regulation in healthcare. The research found there was a broad awareness of regulation, but knowledge of mechanisms and activities was extremely low. It was felt that it could be useful to offer the public reassurance that health professionals are regulated and that a complaints pathway is available to them that works in the public interest. Straightforward communication could help to raise awareness of regulation and its public interest role.
We carried out this research in early 2009 with members of the public across the UK to gauge levels of public awareness of professional regulation and views on where it fits among the different bodies who might be responsible for ensuring public confidence in health professionals.
Research Works were recruited to find participants, and design and carry out the research.
Under the 2008 Health and Social Care Act, the Professional Standards Authority (formerly CHRE) came under a duty to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and other members of the public. We felt it was important to explore what the public knew about professional regulation, so we could perform our new duty more effectively.
We asked Research Works to examine:
- what gives patients and the public trust and confidence that the care they receive from professional s is safe and of high quality
- how trust and confidence are challenged or undermined and what impact this has on patients and the public where the responsibility lies for ensuring people feel confident
- how this responsibility should be fulfilled
- what is need needed to help people feel more confident.
They did this through a series of qualitative workshops across the UK. Some of the groups included people who had regular contact with healthcare services and people with recent experience of acute care.
Trust and confidence in health professionals are often guided by their manner and the quality of the healthcare environment. The media and word of mouth reports are also indirectly influential. When the quality of communication or levels of knowledge are poor, or if there are doubts about the ethics of their behaviour, trust and confidence can quickly become eroded, making patients frustrated and more likely to complain inappropriately.
People considered that patients, health professionals, professional peers, line managers, employers, regulators and the government were all responsible for ensuring that patients have confidence in health professionals. Regulators were consistently thought to only become involved if something had gone wrong.
People were broadly aware of regulation, though knowledge of the mechanism and activities was very low. It was generally considered a ‘hygiene factor’, something that took place behind the scenes. The public did not demonstrate a desire to know more about professional regulation.
There was support for greater public assurance that health professionals are regulated that there is a path for complaints that supports the public interest.
We used this research to develop material for our first national conference following the introduction of the new duty and to inform future policy development