Satisfaction with NHS slumps to record 40-year low amid GP crisis and growing hospital waiting lists

27 March 2024, 06:23 | Updated: 27 March 2024, 08:28

Satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time low.
Satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time low. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Public satisfaction with the NHS has hit a record 40-year low, due to poor access to GPs and long waits for hospital treatment.

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Fewer than one in four (24%) people were satisfied with the health service last year - the lowest level since records began in 1983, according to the British Social Attitudes poll.

It is five percentage points down on the year before and a major drop from the 2010 peak of 70% satisfaction.

Long waiting times for GP and hospital appointments, staff shortages and lack of funding were the main reasons behind public dissatisfaction.

A report on the poll found: "A decade of squeezed funding and chronic workforce shortages followed by a global pandemic has left the NHS in a continual state of crisis."

However, support for the founding principles of the NHS remains high, with 91% believing the NHS should be free of charge, 82% agreeing it should be primarily funded through taxes and 82% saying the NHS should be available to everyone.

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The poll, which was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), was sponsored by the King's Fund and the Nuffield Trust.

Dan Wellings, a senior fellow at the King's Fund, told a briefing the "results are bleak, but should not be surprising after a year of strikes, scandals and sustained long waits for care."

He added: "With the health service increasingly unable to meet the expectations and needs of those who rely on it, public satisfaction with the NHS is now in uncharted territory.

"Ahead of the upcoming general election, political leaders should take note of just how far satisfaction with this celebrated public institution has fallen."

When it came to funding, some 84% of respondents said they thought the NHS had a major or severe funding problem.

Almost half (48%) thought ministers should "increase taxes and spend more on the NHS".

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Responding to the findings, Chris Hopson, Chief Strategy Officer at NHS England, said: “Whilst these findings reflect the sustained pressure and disruption facing NHS services last Autumn, it is extremely welcome to once again see overwhelming public support for the founding principles of the NHS.

“Over the last 12 months as the NHS has continued to recover from the pandemic, frontline services have responded to significant increases in demand, with October seeing the most A&E admissions since January 2020 and GP teams delivering 53 million more appointments last year compared to pre-pandemic levels.

"Coupled with the impacts of a year of strike action, this has affected the experiences of some patients, which we know has been very frustrating.

“However, thanks to the hard work of staff, NHS teams have delivered more elective activity in 2023 than in any other year since the start of the pandemic, with over 17.3 million people treated. It is also encouraging to see a slight increase in public satisfaction with emergency care services over the surveyed period.

“While there is still much more to do, the NHS’s plans to recover access to emergency, primary and dental care and reduce cancer, ambulance and elective waiting times are helping the NHS to deliver improved care for patients.”

Shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said: "After 14 years of Conservative neglect, the NHS has never been in a worse state.

"Fewer than one in every four people say they are getting a good service, and who can blame them?

"Patients are waiting 18 months for an operation, more than a month for GP appointments, and NHS dentistry barely exists anymore. The longer the Conservatives are in office, the longer patients wait."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are fully committed to a faster, simpler and fairer NHS, free at the point of need.

"That's why we are providing the NHS with record funding of nearly £165 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, an increase of 13% in real terms compared to 2019.

"We are making good progress in cutting waiting lists in England, which is one of the Prime Minister's top priorities.

"Despite winter pressures and the impact of industrial action, overall NHS waiting lists have decreased for the fourth month in a row and we've delivered on our commitment to provide an extra 50 million GP appointments months ahead of schedule."