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Satisfaction with the NHS at lowest level in 25 years

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Public satisfaction has fallen Long waiting times, NHS staff shortages and inadequate government funding were cited as reasons for being dissatisfied with the NHS

Public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level since 1997, according to the 2021 British Social Attitudes survey.

The survey found that that public satisfaction with how the health service runs has fallen sharply to 36% – an unprecedented drop of 17% from 2020 and the lowest level of satisfaction recorded since 1997. Record falls in satisfaction were also seen across all individual NHS services, including GP and hospital services.

The fall in overall satisfaction with the NHS can be seen across all ages, income groups, sexes and supporters of different political parties. More people (41%) are now dissatisfied with the NHS than satisfied. Concerns over long waiting times (65%), NHS staff shortages (46%) and inadequate government funding (40%) remain the top reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with the NHS in 2021.

‘On the very same day as this shocking news, the government is urging MPs to vote against plans to make health and care services safer for patients,’ said Royal College of Nursing Director for England Patricia Marquis.

‘In these results, the public and patients are demanding action from government to tackle nursing shortages which are contributing to treatment delays and some patients even dying earlier.’

Despite this, support for the principles of the NHS is as strong as ever. The overwhelming majority of people expressed high levels of support for the founding principles of the NHS when asked if they should still apply in 2021: that it is free of charge when you need it (94%), primarily funded through taxation (86%) and available to everyone (84%).

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The survey reveals that public satisfaction with GP services – historically the service with the highest levels of public satisfaction – has fallen by an unprecedented 30 percentage points since 2019 to 38% (4), the lowest level of satisfaction recorded for GP services since the survey began in 1983. For the first time the number of people dissatisfied with GP services (42%) is higher than those who are satisfied.

‘Our analysis reveals an unprecedented drop in public satisfaction with the NHS, which now stands at its lowest level in 25 years,’ said Dan Wellings, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund.

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‘People are often struggling to get the care they need and identified access to general practice, waiting times for hospital care and staff shortages as areas that need to improve. These issues have been exacerbated by the extraordinary events of the past two years but have been many years in the making following a decade-long funding squeeze and a workforce crisis that has been left unaddressed for far too long. Despite this, support for the founding principles of the NHS remains strong. The public do not seem to want a different model, they just want the one they have got to work.’

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Public perception in the NHS has gone from Hero to Zero. No more overt public displays of affection, clapping and heart shaped rainbow 'I love NHS' posters. The harsh reality is 6 million patients on waiting lists and many unwell patients unable to navigate timely access to primary care which in turn impacts on A&E attendances. It is hardly surprising that general satisfaction levels are low.

NHS staff continue to strive to do their best for patients in ever challenging circumstances. Mostly this is appreciated and acknowledged by our patients. The dissatisfaction, frustration and anger is primarily directed at central government (whichever party is in office).

Mike Paynter
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