Public hostility grows to private companies’ expansion in the NHS

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 03 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7218
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1BMJ

The UK public has become more hostile in the past two years to the idea of private providers running healthcare services, according to the results of a new poll.

The survey1 by Ipsos MORI for King’s College London asked people to agree or disagree with the statement: “As long as health services are free of charge, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are provided by the NHS or a private company.” The poll, which surveyed 1009 UK adults in October 2013, found that 47% of people disagreed with the statement, including 37% who strongly disagreed.

This was a substantial increase from a poll in 2011, when 36% disagreed with the same statement, and just 16% strongly disagreed.

The proportion who agreed with the statement (42%) had changed little since 2011 (41%).

People were less opposed to non-profit making organisations, such as charities, delivering services. Some 54% of those polled agreed that, as long as health services are free of charge, it does not matter whether they are provided by the NHS or a non-profit organisation. This question was not asked in 2011.

The results were published alongside a paper2 by Nick Hayes, an urban historian from Nottingham Trent University, who suggests the shift in attitudes may be a reaction to the government’s changes to the NHS, which have encouraged more non-NHS providers to provide publicly funded healthcare services in England.

Health reforms, Opinion Polls and Surveys: Myths and Realities, published by History & Policy, a collaboration between King’s College London and the University of Cambridge, suggests that people’s views are “heavily determined by their pejorative preconceptions about provision before the NHS” was established in 1948.

Speaking to the BMJ, Hayes said: “People became afraid I guess. It’s no coincidence that ratings fall markedly at the same time as this piece of legislation [Health and Social Care Act 2012] is going through parliament and being debated. The two things are closely linked.”

Anna Quigley, head of research at Ipsos MORI, said: “Private providers have some way to go before they are a fully accepted part of the UK’s health system on par with state-run services. The government are keen to ensure the NHS is able to meet the demands placed on it, but they must be careful that in reforming the NHS and introducing new providers into the mix, they take account of public opinion and don’t leave the public behind.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7218


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