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Health reforms blamed for drop in NHS public satisfaction

12 June 2012

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Public satisfaction in the NHS plummeted by 12% last year due to the government’s health reforms, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey.

The drop, from 70% to 58% in 2011, is the largest of its kind since the survey began in 1983.

The survey of over 1,000 people found satisfaction with GP services fell for the second consecutive year, dropping 4% from 77% in 2010 to 73% in 2011
Public satisfaction with hospital services also fell.

Survey findings showed inpatient scores dropped 4% to 55% in 2011, outpatient services rated 7% lower than a year previous to 61% and satisfaction with A&E services also fell 7% to 54% in 2011.

However, it is said the survey findings are “unlikely” to reflect a deterioration in the quality of NHS services.

Rather, the survey claims the “dent” in public confidence may be explained by concern over the government’s Health Bill and the reasons used to justify the reforms, as well as intense funding pressures.

NHS Confederation Chief Executive Mike Farrar concurs with the survey analysis.

“It would appear very likely that much of this [worry and confusion about the NHS] relates to the understanding and support for the recent reforms,” he said.

“It is really important that politicians and NHS leaders are engaging the public in the major debate about the NHS and how we need to change in order to sustain and improve the services they have come to expect and value over recent years. Any drop in confidence in the service or confusion about the nature of current reform is therefore troubling.

“It will be much harder to make the changes to services necessary if public perception and confidence deteriorates.”

John Appleby, Chief Economist at thinktank The King’s Fund – sponsors of the survey’s health questions – said while the drop in public satisfaction in the NHS is “not surprising” given the spending squeeze, he is “shocked” at the size of the fall.

The Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, said he was “disappointed” but was also not surprised by the survey findings.

“The RCN has consistently said that the programme of huge reform coming at a time as the service in England struggles to save £20 billion will have negative consequences,” he said.

This survey now bears this out and the Government will have to sit up and take notice of these disappointing but not surprising findings.”

The British Social Attitudes Survey took place between July and November 2011.