Satisfaction with NHS falls to lowest level for a decade

Public satisfaction with the NHS is at its lowest level for a decade despite Theresa May’s £20.5bn-a-year funding boost and the enthusiasm created by the service’s 70th birthday.

Barely half of people surveyed (53%) are happy with how the NHS is run, the lowest percentage since 2007. It is 16 percentage points lower than in 2010, when the coalition government’s austerity programme began.

Satisfaction with GP services has fallen to its lowest level. Fewer than two-thirds (63%) of people in Britain are happy with them, while 24% say they are dissatisfied.

Graph of NHS satisfaction levels

Patient frustration with lengthening waits for GP or hospital appointments is the main reason for the increasingly widespread disillusionment. But about half of people in Britain also believe the NHS has too few staff and too little money, research shows.

The figures are among the latest findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research.

The NHS experts who analysed the results said they were puzzled about why satisfaction with the running of the NHS continued to decline in 2018, given the extra money the prime minister promised it last June as a gift to mark its 70th birthday on 5 July.

“We didn’t see the ‘birthday bounce’ that you might have expected in satisfaction,” said Ruth Robertson, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund, which undertook the analysis alongside the Nuffield Trust.

Reasons for satisfaction with the NHS

“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.”

The results are based on responses given by about 3,000 adults in England, Scotland and Wales when asked about the NHS and social care. The interviews were carried out between July and October last year.

“The findings show the inevitable consequence of starving the NHS of funding for the best part of a decade,” said Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations. “We should be under no illusion about the scale of the task we face to restore public confidence in the health service.”

Asked why they were dissatisfied with the NHS overall, 53% said: “It takes too long to get a GP or hospital appointment.” A similar proportion (52%) said: “Not enough NHS staff,” while 49% said: “The government doesn’t spend enough money on the NHS.”

Reasons for dissatisfaction with the NHS

However, the survey also brought good news for the NHS. A record 70% are satisfied with hospital outpatient services. Slightly fewer (63%) are happy with inpatient care, but that is the highest number since 1993.

Quality of NHS care is the main reason people cited for being satisfied with the NHS. In all 71% identified that as a reason, 10 percentage points more than in 2015.

The other sources of contentment are that care is free at the point of use (62%) and that there is a good range of services and treatments available (46%).

Prof John Appleby, the chief economist of the Nuffield Trust, said public satisfaction could improve again over the next few years, as it had done several years after the Labour government increased the NHS budget in the early 2000s.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s always disappointing to hear that some people are not always satisfied with the services they are receiving.

“General practice is currently facing intense resource and workforce pressures. While GPs are working incredibly hard to combat these, we understand that many patients are still waiting too long to see their doctor – something we find just as frustrating.”

NHS England stressed the positive findings. “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. The results as a whole understandably reflect a health service still under pressure,” said an NHS spokesperson.


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