Staff shortages, along with long waiting times, lack of funding and government reforms, have pushed dissatisfaction levels with the health service to a 10-year high, according to latest survey findings.
They show that public satisfaction with the NHS has dropped to 57% – its lowest level since 2011 – while dissatisfaction in the NHS has risen to 29% – the highest in a decade.
“We know that public dissatisfaction is increasingly driven by concerns over funding and staffing levels”
There has also been a significant drop in satisfaction with GP services, which slumped to 65%, meaning it is no longer the highest rated healthcare service for the first time.
The trends are based on the annual British Social Attitudes survey, which was carried out by National Centre for Social Research and analysed by leading think-tanks the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund.
While satisfaction across the board remains significantly higher than dissatisfaction, the think-tanks warned that the results reflected the public’s “growing anxieties” over the NHS funding and staffing.
The proportion of people citing concerns over NHS staff shortages and a lack of funding as a reason for their dissatisfaction grew in 2017 compared to previous years,” they said in a report on the survey.
At the same time, the proportion of the public citing money being wasted in the NHS as a reason for dissatisfaction fell, noted the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund.
“Satisfaction with general practice has slumped to its lowest levels since the survey started in 1983”
Key findings from the survey, carried out between July and October 2017, included that the proportion of people who were “very” or “quite” satisfied with the NHS fell from 63% in 2016 to 57% last year.
In addition, those who said they were “very” or “quite” dissatisfied grew from 22% in 2016 to 29% in 2017.
The four main reasons for satisfaction were quality of care, the fact the NHS was free at the point of use, the attitudes and behaviour of NHS staff and the range of services and treatments available.
The four main reasons for dissatisfaction were staff shortages, long waiting times, lack of funding and government reforms.
King’s Fund chief economist on health policy John Appleby
Overall satisfaction with the NHS was higher among people aged 65 years or older than among adults under 65. However, between 2016 and 2017, satisfaction fell among all age groups.
Satisfaction with GP services fell to 65% in 2017 and inpatient services fell to 55% in 2017, though satisfaction rates for outpatient services and accident and emergency remained stable.
Professor John Appleby, chief economist and director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Despite mounting pressure on the NHS, satisfaction in the health service has remained high in recent years.
“In the last year, however, the tide has started to turn,” he said. “The drop in satisfaction and rise in dissatisfaction this year suggest that the public are worried about the NHS.
“We know that public dissatisfaction is increasingly driven by concerns over funding and staffing levels and they’re right to be anxious,” he warned.
Ruth Robertson, fellow at the King’s Fund, said: “The drop in public satisfaction with the NHS is significant, especially as it comes amid widespread political concern about the future of the service.
“Ministers must act urgently on public concerns over NHS understaffing”
She said: “Just as striking is that satisfaction with general practice has slumped to its lowest levels since the survey started in 1983. This reflects the huge pressure on general practices.”
Responding to the survey findings, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “Ministers must act urgently on public concerns over NHS understaffing.
“The shortages are beginning to bite and that is reflected in this research,” she said. “The evidence shows that patient care standards rise and fall with the number of nurses.”
She added: “We know nurses want to provide high quality, safe and effective care, but underinvestment in staff means they have to make hard choices, resulting in care being left undone.”
“We have argued forcefully that the NHS has reached a watershed moment”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “These findings are deeply worrying. The shift in public mood has been a long time coming.
“We have argued forcefully that the NHS has reached a watershed moment, because despite the best efforts of trusts and frontline staff, it can no longer meet the standards of care set out in its constitution with the resources available,” she said.
“In particular, we have highlighted concerns over staff shortages and a lack of funding,” noted Ms Cordery.
“It is clear that, despite continued unwavering support for the underlying principles of the NHS, the public is increasingly worried about these problems,” she added.