Satisfaction with GPs at lowest level for 30 years, survey finds

NHS approval scores have also slumped, with 51% saying health service needs more money

Public satisfaction with GP services has fallen to the lowest level in 30 years and dissatisfaction with the NHS overall has reached its highest level for a decade, according to authoritative polling.

Voters are increasingly concerned about staff shortages in the NHS, long waits to receive care and the amount of money given to health services. The research findings are from the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey into people’s opinions about the NHS, collected by the National Centre for Social Research.

Only 65% of the representative sample of 3,004 people in England, Scotland and Wales questioned last autumn were satisfied with GP services, the lowest percentage since records began in 1983. That is sharply down on the 80% satisfaction rating seen as recently as 2009. Satisfaction fell by 7% between 2016 and 2017 alone in what experts said reflected public frustration at the increasing difficulty in getting a timely GP appointment.

Ruth Robertson, a fellow at the King’s Fund health thinktank, which analysed the BSA findings alongside the Nuffield Trust, said they threatened general practice’s longstanding international reputation as “the jewel in the crown of the NHS”. “The data sends out an unmistakeable message that general practice is in decline,” she said. The fall in satisfaction was seen across all age groups.

Voters have previously always rated GP services as the best part of the NHS, but they now rank them second behind outpatient care. Trouble getting through to a surgery on the telephone and securing a consultation with a familiar GP also explain the big drop, Robertson said.

Those saying they are very or quite satisfied with the NHS as a whole has fallen 6% since 2016 to 57%, the lowest level since 2011. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents said they were satisfied because of the NHS’s quality of care, 64% with the fact that care was free at the point of use and 44% with the attitude and behaviour of staff .

Dissatisfaction, which the BSA measures separately, has risen to 29%, the highest level since 2007.

“Despite mounting pressure on the NHS, satisfaction in the health service has remained high in recent years, with satisfaction staying above 60% for most of this decade. In the last year, however, the tide has started to turn,” said Prof John Appleby, the Nuffield Trust’s chief economist. “The drop in satisfaction and rise in dissatisfaction this year suggest that the public are worried about the NHS.” Voters who identify with all three main political parties displayed lower satisfaction.

The proportion of voters who think the government gives the NHS too little money rose sharply from 39% in 2015 to 51% last year.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, said: “It is particularly disappointing to see satisfaction slipping across all age groups just as the NHS nears its 70th anniversay [on 5 July], which should be a moment of national pride and optimism for a cherished institution.

“These findings are deeply worrying. The shift in public mood has been a long time coming.” The NHS is at a watershed moment and is no longer able to meet key waiting time targets, often because of staff shortages, she said.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the findings “expose widespread public dissatisfaction with the NHS under this government, as years of overstretched budgets take their toll on frontline services”.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Just last year the NHS was rated as the best and safest health system in the world by independent experts, and, as this report itself points out, the majority of patients are satisfied with the NHS. Moreover, the number of staff who would recommend the care their organisation provides to their own family has never been higher.”


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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