The MHRA has published the summary findings of the survey commissioned from Ipsos MORI into public and professional attitudes to drug safety and the effectiveness of regulation. See press release, 12 December 2006, on the MHRA website. Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive of the MHRA, said they welcomed the findings and "are reassured by the public’s confidence in medicines and medical devices."

Dig a little deeper, and behind the headlines, and the main impression you might get is that most survey respondents have little idea about who does what, and what really goes on. For example, over 90% of doctors appear to be unaware that suspected adverse drug reactions should be reported to the MHRA. See further findings and qualifications in the Table below.

Survey findings

Yes, but …

"Almost 9 in 10 adults are confident about the safety of medicines (88%) and medical devices (83%)." "Only 2% of them spontaneously identify MHRA as the regulator …" and the public’s "confidence in these products seem to stem from an overall confidence in doctors"
"Participants are generally distrustful of information from pharmaceutical companies." "Members of all groups say they trust information provided in pack inserts
Over one in five (23%) say they always weigh up the risks and benefits of a medicine before they decide whether to take it or not …" "The general feeling is that if you can buy the medicine or device, you can assume it is safe."
"Approaching nine in ten GB adults say that overall, most medicines are safe to take" "Despite this underlying confidence, almost three in ten say they are concerned about a particular medicine. Antidepressants are most frequently mentioned …"
"Few people say they know anything about the way that medicines or medical devices are regulated." "Despite their lack of knowledge about regulation, just under two-thirds say they have confidence in the way that medicines are regulated."
"Almost 90% of doctors think that medicines are adequately regulated in this country." "No more than one in five doctors is aware that the MHRA regulates medicines and devices …"
"Nurses feel that decisions based on risk/benefit analysis are not really in their hands, but trust doctors to make these decisions." "Nurses mostly use pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists for information about the risks and benefits of medicines or medical devices, and are happy with these sources. They also prefer them to using doctors"
"The large majority of health care professionals say they know at least a fair amount about the risks associated with medicines … However, a key difference is that GPs are less inclined than Pharmacists or Hospital Physicians to feel they know a great deal about the risks from medicines …" "Physicians see risk assessment as a trial and error process whereby they themselves ‘experiment’ with new drugs."
"The large majority (around seven in ten) say they know at least a fair amount about the regulation of medicines in the UK" and "Almost nine in ten GPs and hospital physicians (87% and 86% respectively) perceive medicines to be adequately regulated in this country" "Pharmacists are most likely to cite MHRA spontaneously as the organisation that regulates medicines (52%) followed by one in five GPs (21%) and fewer physicians and surgeons (11% and 8% respectively). Pharmacists would be most likely to turn to MHRA if they wished to report an adverse drug reaction (22%), compared to fewer GPs (7%) and hospital physicians (5%). No nurse mentioned MHRA in this respect".

Reading between the lines, patients’ confidence in medicines – in effect an expression of their confidence in doctors – often seems misplaced. Even after prompting (they were read out a list of relevant organisations and asked if they recognised each one) four out of ten doctors said they had never heard of the MHRA …

Charles Medawar
14 December 2006


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