Public satisfaction with the National Health Service dipped five percentage points in 2015 to 60 percent, just as dissatisfaction with the service climbed eight percentage points to 23 percent, show findings from the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey.

The survey, conducted by NatCen Social Research and published by The King’s Fund, also revealed that, while satisfaction with GP services is higher than with other NHS service, at 69 percent the figure is still ten points below that in 2010 and at an all-time low since the record began in 1983. 

Nevertheless, Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said “it is testament to the hard work and dedication of GPs and their teams across the country that at a time of such intense resource and workforce pressures, patient satisfaction with our service is the highest in the NHS”.

But she also warned of the “relentless pressure” from a surge in demand, stagnant workforce and a decline in funding that is “a threat to our own health and our patients' safety” and “is gradually wearing down the satisfaction our patients have in us”. 

Elsewhere, satisfaction with NHS dentistry, outpatient and inpatient services remained stable (54%, 66% and 58%, respectively), but the figure for A&E fell from 59% to 53%.

The three main reasons people gave for being satisfied with the health service were the quality of care in the NHS (61 percent), the fact that the NHS is free at the point of use (59 percent), and the range of services and treatments available (54 percent), the think-tank noted. 

The top three reasons for dissatisfaction were long waiting times for GP and hospital appointments (55 per cent), staff shortages (44 percent) and lack of funding (39 percent).

The political split

Also of note, satisfaction levels among Conservative supporters remained stable at 65 percent, while that among Labour supporters dropped by 11 percentage points back to its 2013 level of 59 percent. “This brings it back in line with historical precedent - satisfaction tends to be higher among supporters of the party in power,” the King’s Fund noted.

John Appleby, chief economist at The King’s Fund, said the survey “underlines the high value the British public places on the quality of care the NHS provides and its availability free at the point of use”. 

“It is no surprise to find that dissatisfaction is driven by waiting times for appointments and perceptions of underfunding and staff shortages. However, it is also apparent that people’s perceptions are influenced by their views about a range of factors including politics, policy and public institutions, as well as by their own experience of the NHS,” he noted.

Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the results show that the public continues to value the NHS very highly. “Public perception on NHS funding, staffing and wait times are however driving lower satisfaction. What the public and health service now needs is a strong clear narrative from politicians of all parties on the future of the NHS”.