Public satisfaction with NHS wanes

9 Feb 16

Public satisfaction with the NHS is falling and dissatisfaction levels saw the largest single-year increase since 1983 in 2015, according to data published today by the King’s Fund.

The annual British Social Attitudes survey, conducted by NatCen Social research, found that public satisfaction with the NHS fell by 5 percentage points in 2015 to 60% – still high by historical standards, but now well below its peak of 70% in 2010 – due to long wait times, staff shortages and under funding.

At the same time, dissatisfaction has increased by 8% since 2014 to 23%, the largest single-year increase since the survey began, pushing dissatisfaction levels back to those reported between 2011 and 2013.

John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, noted that the BSA survey has “traditionally been seen as a barometer of how well the NHS is performing”.

For the first time this year, some respondents were asked why they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the NHS. Their answers show the biggest drivers of satisfaction were the quality of care provided (61%), the fact that the NHS is free at the point of use (59%) and the range of services and treatments available (54%).

Reasons for dissatisfaction on the other hand included waiting times for GP and hospital appointments (55%), a lack of staff (44%) and under-funding (39%).

Appleby said the findings should come as “no surprise” and underline the high value the British public places on the quality and cost of care.

But according to Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, the most important findings from the survey were those on social care. The BSA also found that satisfaction with social care provided by local authorities is much lower than satisfaction with the health services, dropping by 5%.

“This reflects the pressure social care services are facing and these must be addressed if we are to sustain effective care for vulnerable people. Current resourcing levels in social care will, we believe, be insufficient in the short term to make this a reality,” Webster said.

Appleby noted a caveat of the findings – people’s perceptions are influenced by their views on politics, policy and more, as well as their own experience of the NHS.

For example, the survey highlighted a sharp divergence of views between Conservative and Labour respondents. While satisfaction among the former remains stable at 65%, satisfaction among the latter dropped sharply back to its 2013 levels –an 11% fall.

The King’s Fund said this is perhaps a reflection of the general election campaign and its outcome, which came six months before the survey, and noted that historically satisfaction tends to be higher among supporters of the party in power.

Satisfaction with other areas of healthcare surveyed, including dentistry, in and outpatient services and A&E, remained relatively unchanged from 2014 levels.

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