Public satisfaction with GPs falls to lowest level since 1983, says survey

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Public satisfaction with GP services has dropped to the lowest level since the 1980s, a survey has found.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey found that satisfaction with family doctor services – usually seen as the “jewel in the crown” of the NHS – has fallen to its lowest level in 35 years.

The survey, which has been tracking public opinion of the NHS since 1983, also found that public dissatisfaction with the overall NHS is on the rise.

A survey by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen Social Research) found that as the health service celebrates its 70th birthday, 57% of people said they were satisfied with the NHS – the lowest level since 2011.

The Nuffield Trust, said the Government should take “serious note” of the significant drop in satisfaction (PA)
The Nuffield Trust, said the Government should take serious note of the significant drop in satisfaction (Peter Byrne/PA)

Reasons behind the drop in dissatisfaction with the NHS overall include long waiting times for GP or hospital appointments, the Government not spending enough money on the NHS and not enough NHS staff, experts said.

The survey, which polled 3,000 people across England, Wales and Scotland about their satisfaction with the NHS overall and 1,000 people about their feelings on individual services, found that 65% of people said they were satisfied with GP services, the lowest level since the survey began.

It is now no longer the highest-rated service and on par with outpatient services – which also has a 65% rate of satisfaction among the public.

Ruth Robertson, fellow at The King’s Fund, said: “One of the findings I thought was most striking in this year’s survey is the slump in GP satisfaction.

“This is a service that people used to see as the jewel in the crown of the NHS and it is no longer the highest rated service. It is really in decline.”

But she added: “More people are satisfied with the NHS than are dissatisfied and when we asked them why they are satisfied they showed really strong support for the core value principles of the NHS – being free at the point of use, the comprehensive range of services available.

“I think that this shows that it is not falling out of favour, but people are worried about the NHS and they are worried about funding and staffing shortages.”

Professor John Appleby, chief economist and director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said the Government should take “serious note” of the significant drop in satisfaction.

“When we asked people why they are dissatisfied, it is increasingly less to do with pointing the finger at the NHS, and increasingly switching the blame to bigger issues – funding, staffing – which are of course the responsibility of Government policy,” he added.

“As the NHS celebrates its 70th year, the Government needs to put the NHS on a sustainable financial footing so it can continue to provide the same high quality, free at the point of use care that it is valued for by the general public.”

Satisfaction with GPs falls to the lowest level since 1983 (PA)
Satisfaction with GPs fell to the lowest level since 1983 Anthony Devlin/(PA)

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This survey is the clearest message to Theresa May that the Tory agenda of under-funding, cuts and privatisation must come to end.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “While it is encouraging that for the second year in a row public concerns about waits have reduced, and public confidence that the NHS is using its funding well has again increased, these results understandably reflect a health service under pressure.

“With public satisfaction scores ranging from 65% for GPs to 23% for social care, these findings again confirm the public’s enduring support for the NHS and the measures necessary to sustain it.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “To be clear, the results of this survey are for the whole of Great Britain and are not Wales-specific. The most recent National Survey for Wales found that 91% of people were satisfied with the care they received at their last NHS hospital appointment and 90% were satisfied with the care they received from a GP.

“Investment in the Welsh NHS has never been higher, with spend per person increasing faster here in 2016-17 than in the rest of the UK. We also have a record number of healthcare professionals working and training in the Welsh NHS.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A YouGov poll earlier this month found patient satisfaction with the NHS in Scotland was 93% – rising to 97% among those aged over 65.

“Health spending per head in Scotland is 7.5% higher than in England, with overall spending and staffing levels at record-high levels, and we have plans to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over 10 years to ensure a sustainable service that meets increasing demand.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care, which is responsible for the health and social care system in England, said: “Just last year the NHS was rated as the best and safest health system in the world by independent experts, and as this report itself points out, the majority of patients are satisfied with the NHS.

“Moreover, the number of staff who would recommend the care their organisation provides to their own family has never been higher.”

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