The British Social Attitudes Survey published by The King’s Fund revealed that public satisfaction with the way the NHS runs has dropped from 70% in 2010 to 58% in 2011.

This is the largest drop since the start of the British Social Attitudes Survey in 1983, after a decade of almost yearly increased dissatisfaction with the NHS. Regardless of the drop, the satisfaction level with regard to the NHS has reached the third highest levels since the start of the survey.

This year’s British Social Attitudes Survey tracked the public attitudes of over 1,000 people who were surveyed from July to November 2011 with regard to key areas of public policy since 1983. The survey period coincided with the first year of a four-year long real term freeze in NHS spending and supported media coverage about the government’s health reforms.

The survey results are available in a report together with various potential explanations for the drop in satisfaction, and also lists the drop in satisfaction amongst supporters of all main political parties:

  • Conservatives: A drop of 4% from 70% in 2010 to 66% in 2011
  • Labour: A drop of 13% from 74% in 2010 to 61% in 2011
  • Liberal Democrats: A drop of 7% from 74% in 2010 to 67% in 2011

Even though Labour supporters experienced a sharp fall in satisfaction, the figures nevertheless suggest the involvement of an element of political partiality. The report concludes that the decrease in satisfaction amongst all main political party supporters indicates that the results have been influenced by other factors.

Various key indicators and patient experience surveys have established that the NHS performs well, which leads to the conclusion that the drop in satisfaction does not likely reflect that the quality of services in the NHS has deteriorated. To the contrary, the report indicates that the most obvious explanations for the fall could be concerns over the government’s health reforms, reactions to funding pressures and ministerial persuasions to justify the reforms, which when combined, may have led to a lack of confidence amongst the public as to how the NHS runs.

According to the results, satisfaction with individual NHS services has also dropped. Satisfaction with regard to GP services also dropped for the second year running by 4% from 77% in 2010 to 73% in 2011 whilst the satisfaction also dropped for hospital services:

  • Inpatient services: a drop of 4% from 59% in 2010 to 55% in 2011
  • Outpatient services: a fall of 7% from 68% in 2010 to 61% in 2011
  • A&E services: a drop of 7% from 61% in 2010 to 54% in 2011

The downward trend in satisfaction was countered by dental services with satisfaction increasing for the third consecutive year running with a 5% increase of satisfaction from 51% in 2010 to 56% in 2011. The rise in satisfaction seems to reflect improved access, as more dentists undertake NHS work in recent years.

John Appleby, Chief Economist at The King’s Fund commented:

“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-publicized 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.”

Written By Petra Rattue