Satisfaction with GP services at 36-year low, survey finds

Public satisfaction with UK general practice is at a 36-year low but remains well above overall satisfaction with the NHS, according to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey.

Survey score (Photo: iStock.com/kasayizgi)
Survey score (Photo: iStock.com/kasayizgi)

According to research backed by the Nuffield Trust and King's Fund think tanks, 24% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their GP service - double the level reported in 2009 and higher than at any other point in the BSA’s 36-year history. Overall, satisfaction with GP services stood at 63% - down two percentage points from 65% in 2017.

However, public levels of satisfaction with general practice were 10% higher than that of the NHS overall, which stood at 53% in 2018 - down three percentage points from the previous year and the lowest level since 2007.

Public satisfaction with general practice was also higher than with A&E services (53%), NHS dentistry services (58%) and social care services (26%). Satisfaction with inpatient services stood at 63%, while outpatient services were rated highest at 70%.

Patient satisfaction

The four main reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with the NHS overall were long waiting times, staff shortages, a lack of funding and money being wasted - while the main reasons people gave for being satisfied with NHS services included the quality of care, the fact that the NHS is free at the point of use, the range of services and treatments available, and the attitudes and behaviour of NHS staff.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard described the findings as ‘disappointing’ - but pointed out that the NHS patient survey showed that 84% patients had a good overall experience of their GP service.

The RCGP chair said: ‘We know that general practice is currently facing intense resource and workforce pressures, and 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.

‘Nevertheless, we know from the last GP patient survey that the majority of patients (84%) said that they had a good experience of their general practice. This demonstrates the hard work and dedication of GPs and our teams, who are seeing more than 1m patients a day across the country. But working under these conditions simply isn’t sustainable for us, or ultimately, our patients.’

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are working harder than ever before to treat the ever-rising number of patients, but they are fighting a tide of poor staffing, lack of space and a lack of investment. Given this backdrop the levels of satisfaction could have been lower, and I believe it’s almost certainly the dedication of staff in the NHS that prevents this.'

NHS long-term plan

Dr Nagpaul added that the findings were 'unsurprising'. 'NHS staff are simply not being given the tools and support to give patients the care they deserve,' he said. 'We need the government to urgently address this in the immediate term and to also ensure that beyond the Long-Term Plan headlines there is a clear road map that gives the NHS the staff, resources and services it desperately needs.'

The latest BSA survey was carried out between July and October 2018 and asked a nationally representative sample of 2,926 people about their satisfaction with the NHS overall, and 973 people about their satisfaction with individual NHS and social care services.

Study author, director of research and chief economist at the Nuffield Trust Professor John Appleby said: ‘Satisfaction with general practice – historically the service people were most satisfied with – has been falling for the past decade and is now at its lowest since the BSA survey began over 30 years ago. This may reflect continued strain on general practice, with mounting workloads and staff shortages and the evidence shows that people are finding it harder to get appointments than before. The NHS long-term plan expects even more of general practice – these problems will need to be addressed quickly if that vision is to be made possible.’

Fellow study author Ruth Robertson, who is also senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said: ‘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. In the short term at least, the promise of more money doesn’t appear to buy satisfaction.'

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