Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: Clinicians have a vital role in promoting patient safety that goes beyond their technical competence. The qualities and attributes of the safe hospital doctor have been explored but similar work within primary care is lacking. Exploring the skills and attributes of a safe GP may help to inform the development of training programmes to promote patient safety within primary care. This study aimed to determine the views of General Practice Educational Supervisors (GPES) regarding the qualities and attributes of a safe General Practitioner (GP) and the perceived trainability of these 'safety skills' and to compare selected results with those generated by a previous study of hospital doctors. METHODS: This was a two-stage study comprising content validation of a safety skills questionnaire (originally developed for hospital doctors) (Stage 1) and a prospective survey of all GPES in Scotland (n = 691) (Stage 2). RESULTS: Stage 1: The content-validated questionnaire comprised 66 safety skills/attributes across 17 broad categories with an overall content validation index of 0.92. Stage 2: 348 (50%) GPES completed the survey. GPES felt the skills/attributes most important to being a safe GP were honesty (93%), technical clinical skills (89%) and conscientiousness (89%). That deemed least important/relevant to being a safe GP was leadership (36%). This contrasts sharply with the views of hospital doctors in the previous study. GPES felt the most trainable safety skills/attributes were technical skills (93%), situation awareness (75%) and anticipation/preparedness (71%). The least trainable were honesty (35%), humility (33%) and patient awareness/empathy (30%). Additional safety skills identified as relevant to primary care included patient advocacy, negotiation skills, accountability/ownership and clinical intuition ('listening to that worrying little inner voice'). CONCLUSIONS: GPES believe a broad range of skills and attributes contribute to being a safe GP. Important but subtle differences exist between what primary care and secondary care doctors perceive as core safety attributes. Educationalists, GPs and patient safety experts should collaborate to develop and implement training in these skills to ensure that current and future GPs possess the necessary competencies to engage and lead in safety improvement efforts.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Fam Pract

Publication Date





Clinical Competence, Faculty, Medical, General Practice, Humans, Patient Safety, Primary Health Care, Prospective Studies, Reproducibility of Results, Scotland, Surveys and Questionnaires