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Public satisfaction with emergency care rises

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 02 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2113
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1BMJ

The public’s satisfaction with the NHS has changed little in the past 12 months after a record fall in 2011, show the latest results of the British social attitudes survey.

The health policy think tank the King’s Fund said that the results, published this week, show that the record fall in satisfaction recorded in 2011 was not “a blip.”

The annual survey, which tracks the British public’s changing attitudes towards social, economic, political, and moral issues, shows that in 2012 just under two thirds (61%) of respondents were satisfied with the NHS. This is up slightly from the 58% satisfaction rate in 2011 but still some way below the 70% reported in 2010.

The steep fall in public satisfaction in 2011 coincided with the start of an unprecedented NHS spending squeeze and controversy over the government’s proposals to change the healthcare system in England. But the King’s Fund, which sponsored the health section of the survey for the second year, said that satisfaction may struggle to return to earlier levels in the face of ongoing pressure on the health service.

The survey showed an increase in the public’s satisfaction with NHS emergency services, from 54% to 59%. Satisfaction with outpatient services (64%) and inpatient services (52%) showed no significant change from last year, while satisfaction with GP services (74%) and dentists (56%) were also unchanged.

In a departure from previous surveys, satisfaction with the NHS did not differ with respondents’ political affiliation. The results showed a 64% satisfaction rate among Conservative and Labour supporters and 63% among Liberal Democrats. These results represented a slight decrease in satisfaction among Conservatives and Liberal Democrats from the previous year but a seven percentage point increase in satisfaction among Labour supporters.

Commenting on the results, John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, said, “The British social attitudes survey has provided an important barometer of how the public views the NHS since 1983. With no real change in satisfaction with the NHS in 2012, this suggests that the record fall in 2011 was not a blip and that the ground lost may take some time to recover.”

Johnny Marshall, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said, “The findings indicate the majority of the public are satisfied with the NHS, and it is particularly good to see a rise in the proportion of people satisfied with A&E [accident and emergency] services compared with the previous year. But there is absolutely no room for complacency.

“It is vital that we do not underestimate the importance of effective, two way communication with patients and the public, particularly as the NHS comes under more pressure than ever before.”

The survey, owned and directed by NatCen Social Research, has been carried out every year since 1983, with the exception of 1988 and 1992.

The main NHS related question asked of respondents was, “All in all, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with the way in which the National Health Service runs nowadays?” with possible answers of very satisfied, quite satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, quite dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2113

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