Public satisfaction with NHS hits lowest level ever recorded


Public satisfaction with the NHS has slumped to the lowest level ever recorded by the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA), the annual survey of public opinion covering conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Overall satisfaction with the NHS now stands at 29 per cent according to the new BSA survey – the lowest level yet recorded. A fall of 7 per cent from the previous year, this year’s report shows the fourth largest year-on-year drop in NHS satisfaction recorded. First carried out in 1983, NatCen’s BSA is seen as the gold standard barometer of public attitudes to a wide variety of social issues. The 40th iteration of the survey was conducted in September and October 2022.

According to analysis published by the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund, dissatisfaction with the NHS has also reached an all-time high, with 51 per cent of respondents saying that they were dissatisfied with the NHS. 69 per cent of respondents cited long waiting times for GP and hospital appointments among the reasons for their dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction with A&E services has jumped by 11 per cent, the biggest year-on-year increase in dissatisfaction since the question on A&E services was introduced in 1999. A record 40 per cent of survey respondents said they were dissatisfied with A&E services, and only 30 per cent reported feeling satisfied.

Other NHS services reaching record-low levels of satisfaction include general practice, dentistry and hospital in-patient services.

As with last year’s survey, public support for the NHS and its core principles remains undimmed. Nine out of 10 respondents agreed with the principle that the NHS should ‘definitely’ or probably’ be free of charge at the point of need, while eight out of 10 agreed that the NHS should be available to all and primarily funded through taxation.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP has warned that the survey’s findings make the need for a long-term workforce plan from the government all the more urgent. Dr Sarah Clarke, President of the RCP, said: “It’s sadly unsurprising to hear that one of the main reasons for the public’s dissatisfaction with the NHS is staff shortages. NHS staff are under more pressure than ever before – often stretched far beyond the limits of their contractual working hours and responsibilities as they try to keep up with demand and do their best for patients.

“The government needs to publish the promised long-term workforce plan in full, including numbers of staff needed to meet demand in 5-, 10- and 15-years’ time, and commit to deliver the funding needed to underpin it. The plan must include an expansion of medical school places to increase the number of doctors. Lives are depending on it.”

Jessica Morris, report author and Fellow at the Nuffield Trust, commented: “Behind the political upheaval and turmoil playing out at the time of this survey, the British public was sending a message about the worsening situation for the NHS. The fact we have now recorded the lowest level of satisfaction with the NHS in the 40-year history of this gold standard survey is a warning siren. The rate of decline has slowed from the previous year, but that is barely a silver lining given the challenges and impact of the pandemic.

“The Prime Minister has made recovering the NHS one of his central promises going into the next general election. But these results show what an enormous task this will be. It is clear that the level of unhappiness amongst the British public over the way the NHS is running is going to take many years to recover.”

Dan Wellings, report author and Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund said: “It is easy to become desensitised to the relentless flow of bad news about struggling health services, but we cannot underestimate the significance of today’s unprecedented results. These stark findings should act as a wake-up call to those in power.

“Even with satisfaction dropping to its lowest ever level, support for the founding principles of the NHS remains strong. The public do not want a different model of healthcare, they just want the current model to work.”