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Public Disenchantment with the NHS: What Does this Mean for the 2024 General Election?

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According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, public discontent with the NHS is running at an all-time high. In their study examining public sentiment towards the NHS and social care services, 3374 people in England, Wales and Scotland reported that the struggle to get a GP appointment and long delays for hospital treatment were the key driver of their dismay.

To put this into context, only 24% of people said they were satisfied with this NHS in 2023, with waiting times and staff shortages being the biggest concerns, compared to a 70% satisfaction rate in 2010. The Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund think tanks, show that performance has deteriorated after a new record low was seen last year.

A closer examination reveals inherent structural flaws within the NHS, exemplified by recurring disputes such as the stage 10 walkouts by junior doctors in England over pay. Despite efforts, the situation hasn’t improved significantly, as evidenced by a recent vote for continued strike action.

What Aspects of the NHS are People Most Unhappy With?

Among NHS services, A&E and dentistry emerge as the least satisfying to the public. Rory Deighton, the NHS Confederation’s acute network director, said the focus for NHS leaders in the next 12 to 24 months should be on improving GP and dental access and cutting waiting lists.

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Beyond public perception, financial mismanagement poses another significant challenge. The Public Accounts Committee says that the NHS is missing tens of millions of pounds of savings as the NHS Supply chain – created to save money through pooling hospital’s purchasing power – has failed to persuade trusts to use it, with the organisation only achieving around 57% of market share against a target of 62%.

The NHS’s Implications for the Next General Election:

Looking ahead to the next general election, these findings are particularly frustrating for the Prime Minister, given his pledge to reduce waiting lists. Dissatisfaction with the NHS is likely to reverberate as blame directed at the current government, potentially influencing electoral outcomes.

Jessica Morris, from The Nuffield Trust, said that findings were worrying – “As we approach a general election, political parties should be frank and realistic about the challenges ahead of them if they are to turn this situation around.”

“Despite such low levels of satisfaction, the public continue to back the principles underpinning the NHS…. The public has not fallen out of love with the idea of a publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-use NHS, but they are losing confidence that it will support them and their loved ones in the best possible way when they need it.”

Jessica Morris, The Nuffield Trust

Support for the institution itself remains high – with 91% saying it should remain free of charge.

In this context, government proposals and opposition manifestos wield significant influence in shaping voter opinion. The future of the NHS hinges on the ability of political leaders to not only acknowledge the public’s concerns but also deliver concrete actions to restore confidence in the healthcare system.

Final Thoughts:

The current state of the NHS demands urgent attention and action from policymakers. While public disenchantment is notable, the underlying support for a publicly funded healthcare system remains robust.

As we approach the general election, it’s imperative for political parties to offer realistic solutions and demonstrate a genuine commitment to addressing the NHS’s pressing challenges. The stakes are high, with the electorate eagerly awaiting proposals that prioritise the well-being of the nation’s most cherished institution.

To read more about NHS issues at the local level, click here to read yesterday’s insights from Helen Maguire BEM, about her experiences in Epsom and Ewell constituency. Furthermore, to read more about Chamber’s work in our ‘healthcare and wellbeing’ sector, please click here and sign up to our newsletter at www.chamberuk.com/newsletter.

Chamber’s partner policy institute, Curia, is turning policy into practice through its Health, Care and Life Sciences Research Group. To be involved in its work and hear more about Life Sciences and Innovation, please email team@curiauk.com.

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