Public satisfaction with the NHS

Public satisfaction with the NHS at lowest point ever

Long waiting times, staff shortages and a lack of government funding mean that less than one in four (24%) people are happy with the NHS putting public satisfaction at a 41-year low for the health service, according to new research from The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust.

The lack of satisfaction is mirrored by an all-time high for dissatisfaction, which was reported by more than half (52%) of the respondents.

The British Social Attitudes survey was carried out during autumn 2023 on a nationally representative sample of 3,000+ people from England, Scotland and Wales.

For almost three-quarters (71%) of those who were dissatisfied with the NHS, long waiting times was the main reason, which was followed by staff shortages (54%) and a perceived lack of government investment in the health service (47%).

“…public satisfaction with the NHS is now in uncharted territory.”

Public satisfaction is also at its lowest point ever for a number of specific services, including:

  • General practice – just over a third (34%)
  • Dentistry – less than a quarter (24%)
  • Inpatient services – around one in three (35%)
  • Outpatient services – less than half (44%)

Approximately three in 10 (31%) did report being satisfied with A&E services, which is a one percentage point increase from last year.

The National Centre for Social Research – Britain’s largest independent social research organisation – carried out the survey.

The idea the NHS has a major funding problem has been a consistent view in the survey since 2015, and is something that the vast majority (84%) of respondents thought this year.

“With the health service increasingly unable to meet the expectations and needs of those who rely on it, public satisfaction with the NHS is now in uncharted territory,” said Dan Wellings, senior fellow at The King’s Fund. “The size of the challenge to recover it is growing more difficult with each passing year.”

“…political parties should be frank and realistic about the challenges ahead…”

Despite the record lows, however, public support of the NHS’s founding principles remained strong. The lion’s share of people believe the NHS should be free at the point of access (91%), mainly tax funded (82%) and universally available (82%).

Improving access to GPs (52%) and expanding the NHS workforce (51%) were identified as the two main priorities for health leaders.

Nearly half (48%) of the survey’s respondents reported they would be happy for the UK Government to increase taxes and spend more on the NHS, slightly less (42%) wanted both taxes and NHS spend to remain the same, and a small amount (6%) wanted a reduced tax burden and less funding for the NHS.

Those with the highest monthly incomes were more likely to want more taxes and NHS spend.

“As we approach a general election, political parties should be frank and realistic about the challenges ahead of them if they are to turn this situation around,” explained, Jessica Morris, fellow at the Nuffield Trust.

“We need to see sustained investment…”

She added: “The public has not fallen out of love with the idea of a publicly funded, free at the point of use NHS, but they are losing confidence that it will support them and their loved ones in the best possible way when they need it.”

A similar survey revealed that public satisfaction with social care has also hit a record low (13%). The King’s Fund has identified three main avenues of action that may help ‘fix’ the health and care system:

  • Improving access to out-of-hospital care
  • Making careers in health and social care more attractive
  • Tackling the biggest risk factors affecting people’s health

NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said the survey findings make it clear that politicians must prioritise the sustainability of the health service ahead of the next general election.

“We need to see sustained investment, including by fully funding the long-term workforce plan and resolving the damaging and disruptive industrial disputes,” added Saffron. "What's more, these efforts must be bolstered by long-overdue reform of social care, which is intrinsically linked to the NHS.”

Image credit: iStock

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