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Wellcome Monitor 2020: How the British public engage with health research

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Published: February 2021

The Wellcome Monitor is a study of the British adult population’s awareness of, knowledge of, engagement with, and attitudes towards science and health research. The public engagement study is the third and final of a series of reports based on data collected in March and April 2020.

Report 1: Covid-19 study

Report 2: Public perceptions of drug-resistant infections

The Wellcome Monitor has been exploring the relationship between the public and health research and science since 2009. This report focuses on how the public trust, use, and inform science and health research; how that has changed over time and, where possible, how those changes may be related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Findings

Most people were interested in health research, but fewer people sought it out unless they needed it.
  • People under 60, people from BAME groups and people with higher qualifications were more likely to actively seek it out.
  • More people had engaged with health research than in 2018, and people were more likely to be interested in hearing directly from scientists than in 2015.
  • However, despite an increase in the proportion looking up health information on most days, most people (67%) still reported only trying to find health-related information once or twice a month or less often.
  • Most people trusted the health-related information they found but people from BAME groups and people with lower incomes were less likely to
  • Mental health remained the area in which most people were interested in, but there has been a longer-term increase since 2015 in the proportion of people interested in the health implications of climate change.
A majority of people thought it is important that the public play a role in health research and stated they would be likely to, given the opportunity.

  • Younger people and those with degrees were more likely to say they would play a role in health research
  • More people thought that members of the public should be involved in setting priorities for health research than in 2018.
Most people viewed health research as beneficial to people like them and believed it had a positive impact on their lives.

  • However, one in three people said that health research had had no impact, or a negative impact, on the way they live their lives.

People in BAME groups, aged under 50, and with worse financial circumstances were less likely to view health research as valuable.

Methodology

Fieldwork for this wave of the Wellcome Monitor was conducted using the random-probability NatCen Panel. The NatCen Panel is a panel of people recruited from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, a high-quality, random probability face-to-face survey. Those agreeing to join the Panel are then invited to take part in additional short surveys covering a range of different topics either online or over the phone. By using a probability-based sample and allowing those without internet access to take part this design reduces the risk of bias compared to online-only surveys which exclude those who do not have access to, or are less confident using, the internet or surveys using convenience samples which are more likely to include people who are more ‘available’ or particularly want to express their views.

Fieldwork for this study began on the 30th of March 2020, one week after the lockdown was announced, and ended on the 26th of April 2020. A total of 2,651 people took part in the survey. This was comprised of a general population and ‘ethnic boost’ sample.  2,403 of the 4,058 panel members invited to take part, as part of the general population sample took part, giving a 59% survey response rate. Taking account of nonresponse at the BSA interview and at the point of recruitment to the panel, the overall response rate was 15%. The ‘boost’ of participants from minority ethnic groups increased their number from 178 to 379, allowing analysis of the experiences of people from more specific ethnic groups although small sample sizes limit the statistical power to detect differences.

Latent Class Analysis was used to segment the population into four groups based on how they engaged with health research. The ‘core engagers’ and ‘under-served’ were respectively consistently positive and negative in their use of health-related information, their trust in it, their role in informing it, and the extent to which they value health research. The ‘unsupported enthusiasts’ were broadly positive about health information and research but were less confident making decisions about their health, trusted the information they access less and found it less clear. The ‘dormant engagers’ were neither especially engaged nor disengaged with health research or information, although they thought it was beneficial. However, when they do try to find health information, they find it clear and easy to find, and are confident making decisions about their health.

Download from the Wellcome Trust