Public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level since 2007, according to the latest data presented in the 2018 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey.

The survey carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and published by the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust has revealed a stark drop since 2017, with public satisfaction falling 3 percentage points to 53 per cent. This constitutes the lowest level in over a decade and sixteen points below its peak in 2010 (70 per cent).

“These findings show the inevitable consequence of starving the NHS of funding for the best part of a decade”, said Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, adding “We should be under no illusions about the scale of the task we face to restore public confidence in the health service”.

The analysis also revealed a continuation of the record low in satisfaction for general practice which remained at 63 per cent. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents reported being dissatisfied with their GP service – double the level of dissatisfaction in 2009.

The predominant reasons for public dissatisfaction were concerns over waiting times, NHS staff shortages and inadequate funding. In contrast, the reasons cited for public satisfaction with the health service were that it is free at the point of use and the quality of NHS care.

Key findings:

  • Inpatient services reached its highest level of satisfaction since 1993 (63 per cent)
  • Satisfaction with outpatient services increased 5 percentage points to 70 per cent, the highest level since records began.
  • Both inpatient and outpatient services were rated more highly by people who had used them recently as opposed to those with no contact.
  • Satisfaction with NHS dentistry, accident and emergency departments and social care did not change significantly between 2017 and 2018.
  • Satisfaction with social care provided by local authorities remains far lower than satisfaction with NHS services.
  • Overall satisfaction with the NHS was higher among people aged 65 years or older (61 per cent) than among adults under 65 (51 per cent).

These findings come despite the added funding boost announced by the Prime Minister to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the health service.

Professor John Appleby, Director of Research and Chief Economist at The Nuffield Trust, commented on the “continued strain,” on general practice which, “is now at its lowest since the BSA survey began over 30 years ago.” Whilst the NHS Long Term Plan aims to provide struggling primary care services a boost, it is clear that there is substantial work to be done and reforms to take place to reverse this trend.

With continuing staff shortages and workforce pressures, the struggles are likely to continue, despite promises to deliver an additional 22,000 support staff to GP practices by 2023/24. Could closer integration with social care and NHS trusts be the answer?

Contrary to these findings, 84 per cent of patients said that they had a good experience of their general practice in the last GP Patient Survey. “This demonstrates the hard work and dedication of GPs and our teams, who are seeing more than a million patients a day across the country said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs. However, “working under these conditions simply isn’t sustainable for us, or ultimately, our patients,” she added.

It remains to be seen how far the investment promised in the new GP contract will go in addressing these struggles in primary care. Despite the boost, drastic measures may need to be taken to retain struggling GPs and prevent early retirement. The college called for measures to address this to be included in the forthcoming NHS workforce strategy.

The full survey, conducted between July and October 2018 can be found here.