Last Thursday representatives from Ataxia UK attended a talk ‘Understanding the public’s views about science and medical research’ to discuss the results of the Wellcome Trust Monitor – a survey of the UK public conducted every three years to look at changing knowledge and attitudes to medicine, science and health. 

It was a useful opportunity to learn the results of the survey and discuss the implications of them with other medical research charities.

The meeting focussed mostly on public attitudes to commercial access to health data and public trust in medical research and medical research charities.

The survey showed that 37% of people say they trust medical research charities like Ataxia UK ‘completely or a great deal’; this places charities behind doctors & nurses and university scientists respectively. The general discussion focussed on why this might be, with some suggesting the possibility that the general public might have a relatively low or neutral opinion of charities, but people in active contact with medical research charities may well have a much more positive outlook.

Research into public attitudes about health data shows that people are generally happy for personal data to be used for research, but many feel uncomfortable if a commercial organisation is involved. A strong case for public benefit is the most important factor for people when deciding whether they would like their date to be used – the research also showed that the more informed people were, the more likely they were to approve of their health data being used.

Also discussed, that may be relevant to people with ataxia is talking with and querying medical professionals. 48% of people felt confident querying a medical professional’s conclusions, again rising if the person is more informed.

The same goes for people who are confident in making health related decisions, 90% of those surveyed are – but this rises to 96% if they have a scientific qualification.

If you’re interested in reading the results of the survey in full, click here