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GPs have retained a high level of patient trust, despite massive media scrutiny of the profession in the wake of cases such as Harold Shipman and Clifford Ayling.

But such scandals have led some patients to trust doctors less. Just over half of patients disagreed with the statement that public trust in doctors had been diminished, but 36 cent agreed.

Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire, and medical spokesman for Developing Patient Partnerships, said doctors always came out on top of polls to find the most trusted profession.

He said: 'Any high-profile cases are bound to make people wonder about doctors as a whole ­ I think it's natural that confidence is dented a little bit.'

Professor Aneez Esmail, a GP academic in Manchester who was a medical adviser to the Shipman Inquiry, said a drop in trust among one-third of patients was 'quite significant'.

But he added that the Shipman case was less about public trust than accountability of doctors. Professor Esmail said: 'He drove a coach and horses through all the checks we set up.'

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