Biggest ever drop in public satisfaction with NHS 'due to reforms'

The biggest ever drop in public satisfaction with the NHS highlights the public's fear about the health reforms, GP leaders warn.

When we speak to patients they seem to think that the reforms are about privatising the NHS.'
When we speak to patients they seem to think that the reforms are about privatising the NHS.'

The public satisfaction with the NHS section of the British Social Attitudes Survey published today revealed satisfaction with the way the NHS runs fell from 70% in 2010 to 58% last year.

A sample of 1,096 people were asked in face-to-face interviews between 4 July to 10 November last year ‘all in all, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with the way in which the NHS runs nowadays?’. The question has remained unchanged since the survey began in 1983 and the 58% for this year accounts for people who answered ‘very’ and ‘quite’ satisfied.

Satisfaction with GP services fell for the second consecutive year, dropping from 77% in 2010 to 73% in 2011.

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said: ‘It is always difficult to gauge public opinion. I’m pleased to see that confidence in GPs remains at a high level. In terms of public perception, it mirrors a lot of the profession’s concerns. When we speak to patients they seem to think that the reforms are about privatising the NHS and there are worries about commercialisation and fragmentation. The ethos of free-at-the-point-of-delivery is something that the public still holds dear.’

The Scottish and Welsh results for overall satisfaction with the NHS, which were presented together revealed a drop from 70% in 2010 to just over 50% last year.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at The King’s Fund which sponsored this year’s NHS question in the survey, said: ‘The value of this survey is that it has tracked public satisfaction over a long period, providing an important barometer of how the public views the NHS. The run of year-on-year increases in NHS satisfaction had to come to an end at some stage, and it is not surprising this has happened when the NHS is facing a well-publicised spending squeeze. Nevertheless, it is something of a shock that it has fallen so significantly. This will be a concern to the government given it appears to be closely linked with the debate on its NHS reforms.’

Health minister Simon Burns said: ‘We want all patients to get excellent care from the NHS. We have made rooting out poor performance a priority, which is why the Care Quality Commission is currently carrying out the biggest ever programme of unannounced inspections - some of which are specifically focused on patients being cared for with dignity.

‘We are also introducing a friends and family test which will give detailed feedback on whether staff and patients think their hospital is providing good care. If patients are unsatisfied with their care it is important that lessons are learned to improve performance in the future.

‘Our latest survey of over 70,000 patients shows that an overwhelming majority - 92% - say that their overall experience of the NHS was good, very good or excellent.

‘The British Social Attitudes Survey targets the general public rather than targeting people that have actually used the NHS, so responses are influenced by other factors - by its nature it is not as accurate a picture as the data from patients. Our own polling of the general public, undertaken independently by MORI, shows that satisfaction with the NHS is broadly stable at around 70% over a similar and more recent time period.’

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