Intended for healthcare professionals


Public thinks workload pressure is eroding NHS’s caring ethos, pollster says

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 15 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1314

Members of the public are concerned that rising workload pressure is starting to undermine the caring ethos of the NHS, the research director of a polling agency has warned.

Over the past year people have begun to raise concerns about the erosion of “the caring ethos of the NHS,” said Anastasia Knox, research director at Britain Thinks, a consultancy agency that uses polling and focus group work to gauge public opinion.

Speaking at the Nuffield Trust’s health policy summit this month, Knox said that people were beginning to worry that service pressures were affecting the way staff behaved towards patients. “Towards the end of last year we heard some concern about the caring ethos of the NHS and questions about actually whether that is being eroded,” she said. “People have an enormous amount of confidence in NHS staff, but there is a question about whether staff have the time to care, and that is linked to their concerns about shortages and also to more fundamental questions about whether the younger generations of staff have the same commitment.”

Speaking to The BMJ, Knox said that the public continued to have a lot of trust in healthcare professionals. “They are basically the only group of professionals left that the public have any trust in,” she said. “And so I think the decline in the caring ethos issue is almost a ‘watch out!’ for the health service.”

Knox said that the public believed that doctors and other staff in the NHS were overworked and overstretched. “Part of it is just about them [NHS staff] wanting to care but not having the time to care,” she said. “By and large the public see it as a result of external pressures. They know that there are not enough doctors, they know that money is tight, and they have sympathy for that.”

She added, “A subsidiary point is a question about [whether] the values of the NHS are shared equally by all those who work in it. There is a perception that has come up in our focus groups that maybe younger generations aren’t as committed, maybe they’re not starting from those caring values, and maybe they are more interested in a kind of transactional relationship with care. I think that’s very worrying for the public. I also think it should be worrying for the professions, because the trust that the public have in them is a huge asset.”