Satisfaction with NHS ‘at lowest since 2007’

Public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, despite the Government’s announcement of a funding boost, new research suggests.

Just over half of people (53%) in 2018 said they were very or quite satisfied with the way the health service is run, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey found.

This is down three percentage points from 2017 and the lowest proportion since 2007, according to analysis by the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust.

In 2016, 63% of people were satisfied, compared to 65% in 2014.

Satisfaction with how the NHS is run is at its lowest since 2007 (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Ruth Robertson, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said she was “surprised” by the results of the survey, in the year the NHS celebrated its 70th anniversary and was promised an additional £20.5 billion per year.

“We didn’t see this ‘birthday bounce’ that you might have expected in satisfaction,” she said.

The survey of almost 3,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales was carried out between July and October, after the funding announcement.

The main reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with the NHS overall were long waits for GP and hospital appointments (53%), not enough staff (52%), a lack of funding (49%) and money being wasted (33%).

More than two-thirds (71%) of those who were satisfied with the health service said it was because of the high quality of care, while 62% said it was the fact it is free at the point of use.

Older people were happier with how the NHS is run than younger people, with 61% of those aged 65 and over satisfied compared to 51% of those aged 18 to 64.

“Despite the outpouring of public affection around the NHS’s 70th birthday and the Prime Minister’s ‘gift’ of a funding boost, public satisfaction with how the NHS is run now stands at its lowest level in over a decade,” Ms Robertson said:

“In the short term at least, the promise of more money doesn’t appear to buy satisfaction.

“The public identified long-standing issues such as staff shortages and waiting times amongst the main reasons for their dissatisfaction and cash alone will not solve these.”

Satisfaction with GPs has hit its lowest level since the survey began (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Satisfaction with GPs has also dropped two percentage points to 63%, the lowest level since the survey was first carried out in 1983.

Professor John Appleby, director of research and chief economist at The Nuffield Trust, said: “This may reflect continued strain on general practice, with mounting workloads and staff shortages and the evidence shows that people are finding it harder to get appointments than before.

“The NHS long-term plan expects even more of general practice – these problems will need to be addressed quickly if that vision is to be made possible.”

The analysts cautioned that there may be a “lag” before the money pledged by Theresa May has an impact on satisfaction levels.

However Ms Robertson added: “Two of the factors that people are telling us are big drivers of their dissatisfaction – waiting times and a lack of staff – are things that aren’t actually addressed in the long-term plan.

“We are waiting for the workforce strategy to come out to deal with the crisis we’ve got around workforce, and a review of waiting times as well.”

A spokesman for the NHS said: “For the third year in a row, public satisfaction with the quality of NHS care has improved and satisfaction with inpatient services is now at its highest level since 1993, however the results as a whole understandably reflect a health service still under pressure.

“The Long Term Plan sets out an effective blueprint for making the NHS fit for the future as funding comes on stream and does so on the back of the public’s enduring support for NHS services, with increasing satisfaction scores in the survey for both outpatients and inpatients.”