Public satisfaction with the NHS plummeted in 2022 to its lowest level in 40 years, with accident and emergency services recording the biggest year to year fall in approval, according to a study of findings from the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey compiled by NatCen.
Waiting times for GP and hospital appointments, a shortage of healthcare staff, and concern that the NHS is underfunded were the main reasons underlying dissatisfaction with services, according to an analysis of the data by the Nuffield Trust and the King's Fund.
The ethos of a health service underpinned by taxation and free at the point of delivery continued to be backed by a large majority in the poll of 3362 people from England, Scotland, and Wales, but overall satisfaction with its performance fell in 2022 by 7% to just 29% -- the lowest level of satisfaction recorded since the survey started in 1983.
Overall dissatisfaction with the NHS among respondents stood at 51%, the analysis found. Meanwhile, just 14% of respondents expressed satisfaction with social care services, according to the two think tanks.
Health bodies and unions blamed years of under-investment and renewed calls for the Government to publish a long-term and fully funded workforce plan, while NHS England acknowledged that the service had endured "sustained pressure" but said that "significant steps" were being taken towards improvement.
Dissatisfaction Among Different Service Areas
The BSA survey found that in 2022:
- Satisfaction with A&E services dropped 8% to a record low of 30%, while 40% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with accident and emergency services
- Satisfaction with GP services fell to 35%, down from 38% in 2021, and the lowest level of satisfaction in general practice since polling began
- Satisfaction with inpatient services stood at 35%, and whilst outpatient services remained the highest-rated service, only 45% expressed satisfaction with them
- Satisfaction with NHS dentistry fell to a record low of 27%, whilst dissatisfaction increased to a record high of 42%
Over two-thirds of respondents (69%) chose long waiting times for GP and hospital appointments as one of the top reasons for dissatisfaction, followed by staff shortages, cited by 55%, and a perception that Government does not spend enough on the NHS, mentioned by half of survey participants.
Despite the gloomy picture, the Nuffield Trust and the King's Fund said "consistent with last year's survey, the public continues to show very strong support for the principles underpinning the NHS" with 9 in 10 respondents backing the principle that the NHS should be free of charge when needed, and over 8 in 10 supporting the idea that the NHS should be available to everyone and primarily be funded through taxes.
One of the report's authors, Jessica Morris, a fellow at the Nuffield Trust, said the findings pointed to "a sustained and worsening concern about every part of the health service", while co-author, Dan Wellings, from the King's Fund commented that "the public can see for themselves the results of more than a decade of underfunding and a lack of workforce planning".
Mr Wellings noted that compared with an NHS satisfaction rating of 29% in 2022, satisfaction with the service back in 2010 stood at a record high of 70%.
Health Bodies Wait for a Long-Term Workforce Plan
Commenting on the report, NHS Providers said that "inadequate funding and chronic under-investment" had "piled on the pressure". Its Chief Executive, Sir Julian Hartley, called for "a fully-costed and funded national workforce plan", whilst urging the Government to settle ongoing pay disputes.
Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said it was "sadly unsurprising" that the public were dissatisfied with NHS staffing 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," she commented.
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing's director for England, said: "We have seen efforts to cut the waiting lists through investment in beds and clinics, but we are yet to see any plans to tackle the long-standing crisis in the nursing workforce."
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The crisis in general practice is not the fault of dedicated GPs, it is a result of decades of underfunding and poor workforce planning. But it is not too late to turn this dire situation around. The forthcoming primary care recovery plan and long-awaited NHS workforce plan will be key opportunities to do this, and we hope they will deliver what is needed to reverse public opinion."
In its response, NHS England highlighted the high regard that the public had for the health service. A spokesperson said: "The NHS is taking significant steps to further improve patient experience, including our recently-launched blueprint to recover urgent and emergency care alongside continuing to slash the long waits for elective treatment which inevitably built up during the pandemic, and we are working on new plans to boost primary care for patients as well as publishing a long-term workforce strategy shortly."