Friday, 8 April 2011

"You've never had it so good" - Public Satisfaction With The NHS is at All Time High

The health service in Britain has long been run with the principle in mind 'Free at the point of delivery, providing according to need rather than ability to pay'. The National Health Service is paid for by all taxpayers in the UK for the benefit of all UK citizens.
Over the years since its launch the NHS has been criticised frequently for poor facilities, poor management, lack of investment, inefficiency amongst many others and it is easy to lose sight of the overriding benefits it provides - but some of this is apparently starting to change.

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has been running since 1984, each year asking the same questions of a carefully selected group of UK citizens. Some of those questions have been about the public satisfaction with the NHS. For most of the last 27 years the answer to the question “All in all, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with the way in which the National Health Service is run nowadays?” has been answered positively by around 40%. Since 2001 that number has risen every year to give a figure today of 64% - the highest ever recorded.

Answers to the question “From your own experience, or from what you have heard, please say how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the way in which each of these parts of the National Health Service runs nowadays: … local doctors or GPs?… being in hospital as an inpatient?… attending hospital as an outpatient?… Accident and Emergency departments?” have also given far more positive responses compared with 10 years ago, in particular approval of Outpatients visits have risen over 22%.

Are these result politically driven? For example might supporters of the left (Labour) want to support the huge amount of investment made by their government over the last decade, and supporters of the right (Conservative) want to minimise their support? For this reason people who completed the survey were asked what their political affiliation was. The politics of  answerers to the question “All in all, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with the way in which the National Health Service is run nowadays?” can thus be tracked. The results from supporters of all political parties show marked improvement in satisfaction.

Is this an isolated result from one questionnaire? Ipsos-Mori polls for this same period asked the question “What would you say is the most important issue facing Britain today?” + “What do you see as other important issues facing Britain today?”. In the year 2000 50% answered 'The NHS' and 10% answered 'The economy'. By 2009 concern with the NHS had dropped to 12% while concern for the economy had climbed to 70%. Once again the general view seems to be that the NHS is better in 2009 than it was in 2000.

The improvement in satisfaction of UK citizens for the NHS seems to be real and quite broadly felt by people from across society. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) makes several comments about these observations, not the least of which is that this rise in approval coincides with a period when the government of the last 10 years or so invested heavily in the NHS - indeed improving the NHS was one of the prime policies of that time. That investment has borne fruit. We can only hope that the current downturn in funding does not completely reverse this clear trend.

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