Public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level since John Major’s government lost office in 1997, according to analysis of the 2021 British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) published by The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust.
It finds that just 36% of the public is satisfied with how the health service is running – an unprecedented drop of 17 percentage points from 2020. The record falls in satisfaction include GP and hospital services, and can be seen across all ages, income groups, sexes and supporters of different political parties. The Nuffield Trust points out:
“More people (41 per cent) are now dissatisfied with the NHS than satisfied. Concerns over long waiting times (65 per cent), NHS staff shortages (46 per cent) and inadequate government funding (40 per cent) remained the top reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with the NHS in 2021.”
Dr Katherine Henderson, President of The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “It is disheartening to see that satisfaction with Accident and Emergency services has fallen to its lowest since a question on A&E was introduced in 1999, a fall of 15 percentage points from 54% to 39%.
“Sadly, though, it is not surprising. For months we have been highlighting the crisis that Urgent and Emergency Care services are facing, the significant threats to patient safety, the moral injury facing staff, the crowded Emergency Departments and long waiting times and the danger these pose.”
“This has been met with little to no action by the UK Government. We have called for an Urgent and Emergency Care recovery plan to tackle the crisis and improve the situation. What we have been given are tents in carparks outside Emergency Departments.”
The BSA follows similar findings in last month’s Health Foundation report ‘Public perceptions of the NHS and social care: performance, policy and expectations,’ in which the public were also negative and pessimistic about the state of the NHS.
More than half (57%) of people polled at the end of last November thought the general standard of care provided by the NHS had got worse in the previous 12 months, while 69% thought the standard of social care had deteriorated. 43% expected NHS standards to get worse. Less than half thought the NHS was providing a good service nationally (44%) or locally (42%).
But while plummeting public satisfaction with the NHS might be seen as a useful lever to soften up the public for more use of the private sector, and even promoting the idea of health insurance, there is also a problem for the Tories. A very large proportion of its mainly older electoral base is entirely dependent upon the NHS – and even if they could afford health insurance or pay for one-off elective treatment, would still be vulnerable to the indignities and delays of under-funded emergency services.
The deepening of austerity and cutbacks are unlikely to win any votes: fewer than one in ten (9%) in the Health Foundation survey thought the government had the right policies for the NHS in England; but only 22% were opposed to increased taxes to pay for additional funding to the NHS.
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