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Public satisfaction with NHS plummets

Public satisfaction with the NHS has plummeted from 70% to 58% in a year, with the drop ‘closely linked’ to concern over the Government’s health reforms, an extensive survey has found.

The results from the British Social Attitudes Survey, published by The King’s Fund, show the largest fall in public satisfaction since the survey began in 1983, and follow a steady increase in satisfaction with the NHS in the past decade.

Satisfaction with NHS services fell from 70% in 2010 to 58% in 2011. But despite the fall, NHS satisfaction remains at its third highest level since the survey began.

Satisfaction with GP services did not fall as much as the NHS overall, with a four percentage point drop from 77% in 2010 to 73% in 2011.

Patient satisfaction with hospital services also fell, with inpatient services down four percentage points from 59% in 2010 to 55% in 2011, outpatient services down seven percentage points from 68% to 61%, and A&E services down seven percentage points from 61% to 54%.

The King’s Fund sponsored the health questions in this year’s survey, which gathered responses from more than 1,000 people between July and November 2011. 

A report accompanying the survey suggested the results could be linked to the freeze in NHS spending, and ‘sustained media coverage’ of the Government’s NHS reforms.

The report shows that satisfaction has fallen among supporters of the three main political parties, including by four percentage points among Conservative supporters to 66%, by 13 percentage points among Labour supporters to 61%, and by seven percentage points among Liberal Democrat supporters to 67%.

It concludes that the fall in satisfaction is ‘unlikely to reflect a deterioration in the quality of services’, but suggests ‘the most likely explanation is that concern about the Government’s health reforms, reaction to funding pressures and ministerial rhetoric to justify the reforms may have combined to dent public confidence in the way the NHS runs.’

John Appleby, chief Economist at the King’s Fund 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 view 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.’

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: ‘These results give us a sharp indication that the public have become worried and confused about what is going on with the NHS.

‘It is really important that politicians and NHS leaders are engaging the public in the major debate about the NHS and how we need to change in order to sustain and improve the services they have come to expect and value over recent years.’