Public satisfaction with government’s running of NHS at lowest level since financial crisis, research shows
‘Promise of more money doesn’t appear to buy satisfaction,’ researchers say, despite government pledging investment after decade of austerity
The public’s satisfaction with the running of the NHS under the Conservatives has hit lows last seen in the middle of the financial crisis, research shows.
Results of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, published on Wednesday, show the number of people “very” or “quite” satisfied with the way the health service is run fell to 53 per cent.
This is a drop of three percentage points from 2017, and the lowest satisfaction since 2007.
This is despite 2018 being a year when the NHS celebrated its 70th anniversary, and the government pledged a £20.5bn investment over the coming years.
“In the short term at least, the promise of more money doesn’t appear to buy satisfaction,” said Ruth Roberson, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund which led the analysis alongside the Nuffield Trust think tank.
She said that satisfaction is “at its lowest level for over a decade” with cash aloe being unlikely to solve the public’s biggest concerns.
The survey shows that the public have been left in no doubt about the damaging effects of Tory austerity policies, with underfunding one of the major causes of dissatisfaction identified by by 49 per cent of people.
Despite ministers’ repeated insistence that the NHS is inefficient and needs to do more to make its money go further, money being wasted was only an issue for a third of the public.
Instead their chief reasons for concern are long waits for GP and hospital appointments (53 per cent) and a lack of staff, identified by 52 per cent.
A seven-year pay freeze for NHS staff came to an end last year, but damage has already been done to morale and staff numbers with more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS and attempts to boost GP numbers going in reverse.
Overall, 63 per cent of the public remain satisfied with the NHS according to the annual poll – with more than two-thirds specifying high-quality care as their reason for being satisfied.
The BSA has run since 1983 and records satisfaction with different parts of the NHS. In hospitals there was a mixed picture, with satisfaction for inpatient care rising; in outpatient services, such as planned surgery, it has fallen.
Public feeling towards general practice, once the sector with the highest positive public perception, has continued to drop, hitting 63 per cent last year – the lowest since the survey began.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said it was “always disappointing” to hear patients weren’t satisfied, though she said patients’ satisfaction with their own GP remained high.
“Our workload has escalated, both in terms of volume and complexity, in recent years,” Prof Stokes-Lampard said. “But the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago and the number of full-time equivalent GPs in England has actually fallen over the last two years.”
The analysis cautions that there may be a “lag” before the £20.5bn pledged by Theresa May has an impact on satisfaction levels, with the expectation that it will fund measures in the NHS 10-year plan.
However, the authors warned that even with more money on its way, the long-term vision for the health service doesn’t actually address issues with waiting times and staff shortages, which top the public’s concerns.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said satisfaction was at an “all time high” under the last Labour government.
“This survey confirms the public know they simply can’t trust the Tories with the NHS,” he added.
“For public satisfaction in the NHS to have plummeted to such depths on the back of nearly nine years of austerity, wider cuts, staff shortages and privatisation is a damning indictment of the Tory stewardship of this vital public service.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the NHS in England has recently been ranked as “the safest and best health service in the world”.
They added: “The launch of the long-term plan – backed by an extra £33.9bn a year by 2023-24 – will safeguard our health service for generations to come and transform patient care by improving outcomes for major conditions, treating more people in their communities and increasing the frontline workforce.”